It is common for young children to prefer one parent to the other. This preference can be attributed to a variety of factors, both genetic and environmental, including temperament similarities between parent and child, spending more time with one parent, or big events going on in the family, such as the birth of a new sibling. It can also be about a child’s need to test whether or not he has control over who takes care of him and gives him attention.

Temperament similarities can be both beneficial and challenging for the parent-child relationship. For example, an introverted parent and an introverted child may bond because they both find comfort staying at home. If the other parent is more extraverted, the child may prefer the parent who wants to stay home. Because it is an important life skill to learn how to socialize with others and build friendships, the extraverted parent may have to work harder to connect with the child and create these social opportunities. In a family with a strong-willed parent of a strong-willed child, there may be daily battles. If the other parent has a more flexible temperament, he or she may be the favored one.

Some parental preference is situational, such as one parent working and one parent at-home. Through spending more time with the child, the at-home parent may develop a stronger initial bond. It takes effort to find opportunities for the working parent and child to spend time alone, but the life-long benefits of a strong relationship is well worth the effort. Not to mention the great benefit of free time for the at-home parent!

At times, parental preference is triggered by an event, such as an illness in the family, a job change that involves more travel, or the birth of a new sibling. It’s important for both parents to give the child affection during these transition times, while being very clear and firm with boundaries. A child may continually request Daddy, but it is the parent’s responsibility to decide who will be taking care of him or helping him each night. Be sure to prepare the child for what is coming next, and who will be with him. If he screams for Daddy, and Mommy is going to be with him, have Dad disappear and let the child experience his strong feelings. Stay calm, and reassure him that “Mommy is going to be with you and we will be fine. You will see Daddy later (or tomorrow).” A child may test each parent to see where he has power. Find things he can be in control of, and praise him for being helpful in any way you can allow. He will most likely pass out of this phase soon, if both parents are able to handle these requests calmly and firmly, reflecting his feelings and encouraging him to become a resilient, strong, and capable family member.