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When Your Child Seems to Prefer One Parent over the Other

It’s not uncommon for children to prefer one parent over the other from time to time, but when that preference becomes significant and apparent, then it’s time for parental action.  Here are some tips for what parents can do.

The favored parent must ask the child about the apparent favoritism.  For example, the parent may say, “Mommy misses out on all your great stories about how your day at kindergarten went.  I know she’d like to hear your stories too.  How come you don’t talk much around Mommy anymore?”  (It must be borne in mind that a child’s parent preference can change as the child ages and his perspectives and situations change.  For example, when the son begins identifying himself as male, he will want to spend more time around his father so that he can learn how males “are supposed to act”.  Also, if one parent is primarily responsible for discipline, that parent may fall into disfavor when the child is trying to establish his own individual identity by rebelling.)

The favored parent should seek to resolve any disconnects between the other parent and the child.  For example, the parent may say, “Mommy loves you very much.  I know you and I have a lot in common, because we’re both guys, of course, but you still have a lot in common with Mommy too.  You two both love to draw.  I’m not good at drawing, but you and Mommy are.  Hey!  How about you suggest to Mommy that you two take a beginning art class together?  I know she’d love that!”

The non-favored parent should be patient and remain steadfastly loving to the child.  It may seem hurtful to keep “putting oneself out there” only to be “shot down”, but the non-favored parent must rise above her own hurt feelings and do what is right for the parent-child relationship.  If specific behaviors that she exhibits are causing the disconnect, then she should consider potentially modifying those behaviors.  For example, disciplining behavior is very important, but the specific means of discipline can change.  The non-favored parent must maintain parental authority by continuing to discipline her child when such is warranted, but if the child is disproportionately troubled by being sent to his room for 15 minutes, perhaps a time-out in a less isolated location would be appropriately disciplinary without being disconnecting.

The non-favored parent should allow the child to have private time with the favored parent.  If the non-favored parent tries to force herself on her child, the child will likely feel irritation and resentment.

Both parents should seek family activities that will reinforce the family unit collectively.  Shared family activities, which emphasize the things that the family members have in common, will reinforce the bonds the child has with both parents.

Both parents should give this process time.  If the preference has not faded after approximately one year, or if the child’s feelings toward the non-favored parent becomes acrimonious, then perhaps further steps may become warranted.  An outside expert, a neutral third party, may be called upon for guidance.  School counselors, grandparents, family counselors, and others can meet with the parents to assess the situation, provide advice, and perhaps even intervene directly.

By following these steps, parents can effectively handle their child’s parent preferences.

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