What To Do When Your Toddler Doesn't Want Daddy/Mommy?

Parent Preference


"I don't like Daddy!"

And one day, as if the child had suddenly developed its own consciousness, it made a choice: I don't want mommy/daddy. They start pushing the parent away, preventing him/her from approaching, while showing a look of panic.

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Many of the first-time parents I know do their best to fill this role and work hard to take care of their children. They often take turns, sleepily get up in the middle of the night, carefully make baby bottles and feed their little ones, learn to change diapers despite nausea, play the games they have played 800 times and tell the stories they have told for God knows how many times.

And one day, as if the child had suddenly developed its own consciousness, it made a choice: I don't want mommy/daddy. They start pushing the parent away, preventing him/her from approaching, while showing a look of panic.

What a heartbreaker! I don't think any parent would expect to be treated this way by a child they love with all their heart and soul. Can't the child feel what they have given so much?

If, unfortunately, you are experiencing your child's "dislike", please pull yourself together first. We just need to understand the reasons behind this and get started with continuous improvements.


A. Having preference is completely normal
Many studies have shown that although both parents will undoubtedly love their children very much, yet children will still have preferences and make choices. This is something that naturally happens as cognitive abilities develop.

Your little one might be more attached to one parent because that parent’s company makes the child feel more relaxed and comfortable. For example, how patiently they tell stories and play games, whether they are gentler when changing diapers, or even how well the parent's routine resonates with the child's routine, all create a preference in the child's mind that leads to a choice. So, if you are the less-favored parent, you can breathe a sigh of relief, your child doesn’t hate you, they are just more attached to the other parent.

B. Confidence developing

In our previous article, we mentioned the concept of "object permanence". This concept means that even if we cannot see, hear, or feel the existence of the object, it does not mean that the object disappears and ceases to exist. We take this concept so much for granted that we forget that we are innately not aware of it.

Children as young as one or two years old do not have this concept, so when they cannot find their parents within sight, they think they have disappeared, and the resulting fear can cause them to cry. As they grow older, however, they gradually develop an understanding of ’object permanence‘.

In addition to existence itself, children may even discover the emotional constancy that no matter how many bad things they have said and done, their parents will still love and protect them. And they know that even if they say something like "I don't like daddy" that breaks their daddy's heart, their dads won't stop loving them. In fact, they feel safe exposing their negative feelings about you because they feel confident in your love for them. It's probably a sign of approval from your little angel. (It's still heartbreaking, though!)

C. Primary caregiver

Research shows that mothers tend to devote more time and energy to family and parenting responsibilities. Because of this, mothers tend to spend more time with their children, and children become more dependent and fonder of their mothers.

Although two-year-olds don't know much, they do know exactly "who is around" and are more likely to "spend time with". In other words, they are closer to whoever takes care of them more often and spends more time with them. Conversely, they tend to feel alienated by people they have less interaction with. Therefore, if you don't spend much time with your child, it's easy to understand why your child may be a little resistant to you.


A. Don’t take it personally

It's normal to feel frustrated when you hear your child say he doesn't like you. But before you get completely discouraged, it's still important to remind yourself that this is a child who is just beginning to understand and explore the world, and even though it's sad, it's a preference made in the context of their limited perceptions and doesn't mean they will hate you for the rest of their lives. In fact, the words "don't love" and "hate" may not be literal at this time (two-year-olds are just learning to express themselves verbally), they are probably talking about feeling uncomfortable, nervous, and unsure of how to get along with you because they are not that resonated with you.

B. Avoid emotional kidnapping

If you are a first-time parent in such a situation, do not be aggressive and do not say things like, "I'm so sad that you won't let Daddy hold you," "I'm so sad that you don't love Daddy," or "How can you say you don't like Mommy?"

These phrases can easily become a form of emotional kidnapping, leading the children to believe that they are responsible for all the emotions of others, which on the one hand confuses the children, and on the other hand may blur their interpersonal boundaries and "teach" them to be overly sensitive to other people's emotions.

C. Don’t compromise

If the kids have developed a preference and insist that you come and play with them, the odds are that you will still compromise, but believe me, this is not good practice.

If you give in to your child's preferences at every turn, you will instead make them even more determined. They may even begin to think that their preferences are the order, that they are the only ones that are right, and that others must obey. Sounds selfish, doesn't it? Do you want to keep compromising?

It's better to let your partner play with the child and increase their bonding time. You can tell your child: Mommy is a little busy right now, but I know Daddy really wants to play with toys too -- can you play with Daddy for a while?

D. Spend time on quality companionship

The best strategy is, of course, to spend more time with your children. If you have to leave most of the time before your child gets up, and come home from work when your child is ready to go to bed after bathing, remember to schedule your days off, take quality over quality and spend the moments you can with your child.

Companionship here is not just "being in the same space as your child", but "interacting with your child". If you put on a cartoon for your child to watch while you play with your phone around, this is a kind of ineffective companionship. You may even be treated as a "tool" by your child, who only comes to you when he or she wants to watch a cartoon, as if you are the human remote control that turns on the TV in his eyes, rather than someone to build intimate attachments.

Quality companionship means being involved and interacting with your child. For example, reading a book to your child, or playing a creative game with your child. If they want to watch cartoons, you should join and interact with your child about the content. So, the first step to having good company with your child is to keep your cell phone away from you.

E. Get help from the favored parent

If the child has already developed a tension with the less-favored parent, the other parent, who has already established an attachment relationship with the child, can help the other parent to integrate and interact with the child, in order to reduce the child's tension and insecurity. We want the child to feel that, "Hey, this person who calls himself dad is on the same side as my mom." and "If mom is a good person, then he should be a good person too".

Next, use a step-by-step approach to increase the amount of time the less-favored parent spends alone with their children. Let's start with both parents playing with the child together. After the child starts getting into the game and has some interaction with the less-favored parent, the favored parent will leave the scene with the excuse of doing household chores or needing a break.

F. Exclusive activities & memories

If you’ve spent quite some time with your child, but you’re still the less-favored parent to them, try creating memories that are unique to the two of you and do something fun that only the two of you do together, like having fun outings or playing games that both you and your child enjoy. Encourage new traditions between you two, like grocery trips in the mornings, pillow nest buildings on weekend evenings, or bad-mannered tea parties on Saturday afternoons.

In summary, it is important to establish attachment and intimacy with our children, just as it takes time to irrigate the seeds after we have buried them in the soil. And caring for our children is not just about providing material support for them, but also about companionship, interaction and caring. When we provide our children with spiritual nourishment, the bond between them will gradually sprout and flourish.