Tips to cope when a child prefers one parent

Have you noticed that your child prefers one parent over the other? While this situation can be challenging, it’s essential to remember that children’s preferences are fluid and part of their natural development. Just as babies and toddlers go through various phases in their growth, their feelings of attachment and preference can also shift over time. So, if your child seems to show a strong liking for one parent at this stage, it’s important not to worry too much, as these inclinations tend to evolve.

In this blog post, we’ll explore the reasons behind why a child prefers one parent over the other, discuss ways to cope and strengthen your parent-child relationships as the preferred and non-preferred parent, and offer insights to make this phase a positive learning experience for the entire family.

Tips to cope when a child prefers one parent

It’s important to first understand why your child prefers one parent over the other. It could be any, or all, of the following:

  • Attachment and development: Children’s preferences often stem from their developmental stages. They may seek comfort and security from the parent they feel closest to at that particular time.
  • Familiarity: Children might prefer the parent they spend more time with due to routines or circumstances.
  • Exploring boundaries: As children grow, it’s in their nature to test boundaries and explore relationships. Showing preference is a way for them to assert their independence and preferences.

Coping strategies for the preferred parent

Are you currently the preferred parent. Here are some tips to help you deal with your child expressing preference for you:

1. Stay positive

If your little one is distressed or struggles with separation anxiety when you leave, know that this is a sign of a secure attachment with you.

2. Be patient

It can be frustrating when your child will only let you do certain things or will only go to you for comfort, but remember that preferences can shift over time. Be patient and allow your child the space to explore their feelings.

3. Avoid forcing attachment

Forcing your child to choose or feel differently about the other parent might backfire. Give them the freedom to express their feelings without pressure.

4. Work as a team

Your partner’s support is crucial during this phase. Work together to create an environment that nurtures both parent-child relationships.

5. Encourage inclusivity

Create situations where both parents are involved in activities. This fosters a sense of unity and shared experiences.

6. Look after yourself

Whenever possible, take some time for yourself. Being the preferred parent can be exhausting and all-consuming, so get your needs met when and however you can, even if it’s just for a few minutes of deep breathing or meditating, or a quick walk around the block. Your child will have feelings about being left with their other parent, but that’s okay. Your needs matter as well.

Coping strategies for the (currently) non-preferred parent

1. Stay positive

It’s important not to take your child’s preference personally. They don’t have the brainpower to manipulate or rationalise their feelings. Remind yourself that this is a normal and healthy part of their growth.

2. Avoid comparison

Refrain from comparing yourself to the preferred parent. It’s not something you’ve done or don’t do. Each parent-child relationship is unique, and comparisons can add unnecessary stress.

3. Maintain a strong connection

Even if you feel ‘rejected’, continue spending quality time with your child, engaging in activities they enjoy to create memorable experiences together. Consistency can help foster a stronger bond.

4. Create positive associations

Be the source of fun, comfort, and security for your child. Positive associations will encourage them to seek your company more willingly.

5. Share your feelings

Openly communicate your feelings with your partner. Acknowledging your emotions can help both of you find solutions together. Whatever you feel is okay.

6. Share responsibilities

Being the non-preferred parent is not a reason to stop being involved. Collaborate with your partner to ensure both parents play an active role in childcare, promoting equal bonding opportunities.


Your child’s feelings and parent preferences are not a reflection of your parenting skills or love. By staying patient, maintaining a strong connection, and working as a team, you can navigate this phase, and provide an environment where your child feels secure and loved by both parents.