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Dealing With ‘Parent Favouritism’

by Toby Hodgkins

Do you ever find that your child goes through phases of preferring one parent over the other?

You’re not alone.

It can be adorable, hilarious, and even skin-crawlingly annoying all in the same day. It’s lovely when your child is all about you, and only wants YOU, and it can be really funny to see them develop a little attitude when telling their other parent ‘no’, but on the flip-side, it’s problematic when they NEED to be cared for their ‘least favourite’ parent, and when the ‘favourite’ needs five minutes to themselves without being climbed all over.

True story.

Do I ever feel that Max has a favourite parent?

Yes, all the time, and it varies a lot between me and my wife but it depends on his mood and who has told him off!

For a long time, Max was very much a daddy’s boy and was my shadow, but for the past six months or so, he’s developed a much stronger attachment to mummy and is now very much a mummy’s boy – although he does come to me and grass her up when she’s told him off for something! It’s really normal for children to go through these phases and it’s not something we should take personally, even if it can feel a little hurtful being rejected!

How do I deal with it when he goes through a ‘favouritism phase’?

When Max goes through a ‘mummy’ phase, I honestly take full advantage of it – it gives me a breather, which is good for all parents, let’s be real! I also have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (read my story here) so again, it helps me. When he’s going through a ‘daddy’ phase, we make sure more than ever that we’re sticking to a routine to make sure we’re all getting enough rest and we just bumble on with things.

It can be really tiring when he’s only wanting me, but it’s something all parents go through and we always get there in the end.

How can these phases affect behaviour and discipline?

They affect his behaviour quite a lot; during these phases, he won’t take the ‘least favourite’ parent seriously when being told off and it means that we have to be really, really firm with boundaries, actions and consequences (firmer than we usually need to be). We try to follow gentle parenting principles, and it is possible to be firm and gentle at the same time! It definitely makes him harder to discipline though, as he just runs off to his favourite parent so we have to work together a a team to be consistent.

What techniques work best?

If he is being defiant because the ‘least favourite’ parent is asking him to do something or telling him not to do something, we make sure we’re being consistent with sitting him out in a quiet corner, removing him from the situation and deescalating him. Sometimes, we’ll have to take a toy away until he’s ready to play nicely (and not throw it at us, which is usually the trigger for this behaviour management).

There is no right or wrong behaviour management technique, it will all depend on your child, but consistency is key!

Remember – these phases are nothing personal, they’re normal, and usually children grow out of them.

Toby Hodgkins

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