When Your Child Picks Favorites

Your toddler has a favorite blanket, toy, snack, and now ... parent. Here's what to do when you won't do.

  • Aimee Herring

    Don't Take It Personally

    Your increasingly independent kid is developing his own preferences, and thanks to his budding vocabulary, he can now verbalize his likes and dislikes. However, toddlers are struggling with these intense new desires, and they won't always express them in the most pleasant ways. "Your child doesn't yet understand that he has the power to hurt people's feelings," says Erin Floyd, Ph.D., a clinical child psychologist in Atlanta. "If he screams for you to give the book to Daddy and go away, it doesn't mean he loves you less -- he may just be in the mood for the way your husband reads to him."

    Play it cool when he passes you over. If you act sad or angry, that can actually cause your child to pull farther away. Instead, encourage his bond with your spouse, which will let him know that when he comes back to you, you'll accept him with open arms. "As fierce as toddlers can be about what they want in the moment, they also change their minds frequently and with just as much passion," says Alison Gopnik, Ph.D., author of The Philosophical Baby: What Children's Minds Tell Us About Truth, Love, and the Meaning of Life.

  • BananaStock

    Try Together Time

    Look for activities that you can do as a group, such as building with blocks or having a picnic at the park. Watch how your spouse interacts with your kid. "If the preferred parent gets down on her level to play -- and she likes it -- try doing the same thing," suggests Russell Reiff, M.D., a developmental pediatrician at Kaiser Permanente San Francisco Medical Center.

    If your toddler is still acting a little standoffish, hang back a bit and let your partner talk you up. "In an upbeat tone, he could say, 'Isn't it wonderful that Mommy is coloring with us? We're going to have lots of fun,' " says Dr. Floyd. Gradually, the favored parent should pull back so the snubbed one can be more involved.

  • Aimee Herring

    Find Your "Thing"

    Take advantage of routines. Toddlers love predictability, and your kid will be less likely to throw tantrums if he knows who does what each day. Having a specific role also guarantees you some one-on-one time. For example, when it's your job to bathe him every night, and he screams for Daddy, gently remind him that you do bathtime but his father will have fun putting him to bed afterward, says Dr. Reiff.

  • Tina Rupp

    Make it Special

    Planning a specific activity or outing without your spouse can help you go from dissed to desired. Take your kid on a field trip for some alone time at the playground or park. Even something as simple as teaching her a game or song that only the two of you know is enough to help you stand out.

  • Tina Rupp

    Put Your Foot Down

    It's not always possible for your child to do everything with the parent of the moment. For starters, the snubbed one wouldn't get any quality time with him -- and that's no good for anyone. On top of that, your kid's favorite might be sick, at work, or just in need of a break. Although you may be tempted to give in when he has a meltdown, it's better in the long run to stand firm, says Dr. Reiff. In a calm, clear way tell him, "Daddy can't feed you -- he's not here. Let's get this done so you can cuddle with him later."

    Originally published in the May 2010 issue of Parents magazine.