It is common for a child to prefer one parent over another, but being rejected hurts. Find out what you should do to manage your emotions and survive this difficult phase.

Just the other day, I was chatting with my 4 years old son Alex while driving him to gymnastics class. Out of nowhere, he exclaimed, “Mommy I love you!” I know, so sweet and adorable. My heart swelled up with happiness and a huge smile formed on my face. Then he followed his declaration of love with, “BUT I LOVE DADDY MORE.

OUCH. Just punch me in the stomach why don’t you? I was quickly reminded of the Mortal Combat game (yes, I was a gamer) when Kano ripped out the heart of his opponent to finish him off. That’s probably the perfect way to describe how I felt at the time.

If you are feeling devastated and overwhelmed with grief like I was, know that you are not alone. According to a poll conducted by Parents.com, more than 90% of parents felt their child has preferred one parent over another at some point. Let’s talk about why you shouldn’t take it personally and what to do when it happens.

Why a child favors one parent.

Preferring one parent over another is actually a healthy part of your child’s emotional and cognitive development. He is exercising independence by choosing the parent who is best-suited for what he wants at the time. Also, when your child favors one parent over the other, he is also showing that he feels secure with you and knows that even if he spends more time with the other parent, you will always love him and be there for him.

There are other factors that may play into your child playing favorites. For example, birth of a sibling or a job change (all the sudden mommy is working full time instead of staying at home) are significant events that could alter the family dynamics. All the sudden your child may find that mommy is not as available as before and chooses to spend time with the parent who can give him more attention.

Whatever the reason is, being rejected by your child hurts. Here are helpful tips for surviving this difficult phase while maintaining a good relationship with your child.

1. Empathize with your child.

Trying to change your child’s mind about who they prefer may lead to tantrums and meltdowns. Instead, emphasize with your child when he or she demands the other parent. When my son screams for daddy, I tell him, “I know you love daddy and want to play with him, but he can’t be here right now. I understand that makes you angry and sad.” Show your child that even though you can’t give him what he wants, you are listening to him and acknowledging his feelings.

2. Take turns being the “fun” one.

Being the mom, you are responsible for making sure the kids eat each meal, their clothes are clean, they take baths, etc. Then daddy walks in and it’s PARTY TIME! When you think about it, it’s not surprising the kids prefer daddy when daddy’s presence means all play and no work. Therefore, make sure your husband also spends time doing the “non-fun” things and that you make time every day just playing with the kids and show them how much you love them and nothing else (put down that vacuum, woman!).

3. Play to your strengths.

One day, I asked my son, “why do you like daddy more?” He said, “because he is stronger and can throw me higher!” Well, I can’t compete with that … unless I spend every day at the gym training for bigger guns. But my son’s response made me realize that he doesn’t love daddy more – daddy just has traits that lead to more exciting playtime. So pick something you are better at than your husband to do with your child. For example, my kids prefer me for arts and crafts because mommy can actually draw … daddy’s stick figures just can’t measure up.

4. Focus on the good.

Hey, I know it sucks that your kid wants daddy all the time, but look on the bright side – your husband is a wonderful father. He spends quality time with your kid and makes your kid’s life so full of laughter and joy. What’s wrong with that? Think of it as an opportunity for you to get some “me-time” and go get a massage or go shopping!

5. Manage your feelings.

Oh, the number of times I just want to roll my eyes and yell “FINE, BE THAT WAY!” to my son when he chooses daddy over me. Or just retreat to my room and binge eat ice cream by my lonesome self. While it’s okay to share your feeling with your child (“I feel sad when you tell me to ‘go away'”), you should keep your voice nice and calm. In addition, you should express to your child that he or she can play with daddy, but you will always be there for them when they are ready.

6. Talk to your spouse.

If you are the preferred parent, recognize that your partner may be feeling jealous and hurt. If you are the non-preferred parent, recognize that your partner may be frustrated having a kid clinging on to him all day long. Work out a schedule together where the preferred parent can step away so that the non-preferred parent can spend some quality alone time with your child.

7. Remember that it’s just a phase.

Toddlers’ frontal cortex is still developing, so they have trouble regulating their emotions. Thus, when daddy gets home after all day with mommy, they can’t help it but channel their intense happiness fully on one parent and totally push aside the other. As they mature, this extreme favoritism dynamic will subside. At 4 years old, my son now has started to ask for me a lot more and prefer to have both daddy and mommy around rather than just daddy alone.

You got this.

 Being the non-favored parent is heartbreaking. Just remember, it is common for toddlers and preschoolers to go through phases when they show strong preference for mommy or daddy. It’s part of your child growing up and maturing. Think positively – your kids are happy because daddy is around, daddy is happy to play with the kids, and you are happy because you finally get a chance to drink that coffee you made this morning. Life is good.

Are you the preferred parent or the rejected one? Tell me in the comments!

Chid Prefers One Parent