Kids often pick a favourite parent — don’t let it ruin your relationship

If your child has a favourite parent and it's putting as a dent in your relationship, experts say parents have to work together to make things work. Getty Images

Whether they’re toddlers or pre-teens, experts say at some point, children tend to pick a favourite parent.

And this can boil down to several things: maybe one parent is more strict and the other one is laid back. Maybe one parent enforces the rules, while the other one lets children get away with it. Maybe one parent is always around, while the other one is busy — either way, conflicting parenting styles can put a strain on your relationship, says Lauren Millman of Lauren Millman Counselling and Psychological Services in Thornhill, Ont.

“If there’s a dominant parent or a strict one, the question we must ask is if the dominance or strictness is coming from a good place or anger,” she tells Global News. “When we are angry, overwhelmed or stressed, we become a more dominant figure in our children’s lives, but we’re acting out how we’re feeling.”

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READ MORE: When kids play favourites — Strategies to handle the mommy or daddy phase

On Friday, Slate ran a “Care and Feeding” advice column with a similar problem: “My daughter is 18 months old and is showing a preference to be with me rather than her dad.”

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“The reality of raising kids with a partner is that it’s a hell of a lot easier than raising a kid alone, but you’re going to butt heads and disagree about things. Serious mistakes aside, it benefits your child to have parents who do not always parent the same way,” Slate notes.

The site adds as children get older, it is important for them to see a variation of parenting styles.

Age also matters

But Millman says how to approach this type of behaviour also depends on age. When a child is under five and they are choosing a favourite, it’s better for parents to take a step back and observe how the child is reacting to one parent vs. the other.

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“Children are learning about the world,” she says, adding you don’t want to interfere with that. “I encourage parents to let their children express themselves and that means taking a step back.”

She adds this still means instilling good behaviours from both ends.

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With teenagers or pre-teens, they tend to pick the less rigid parent as their favourite, Millman continues.

“It’s important to ask yourself, ‘why doesn’t my child want to spend time with me? Why does my child feel more comfortable with the other parent or care giver?’ These are hard questions to answer because ego enters into the equation.”

Working as a team

And if your child is often choosing sides or a favourite, it’s important to give that child space. “Obviously there’s reason [it’s happening]. Let your child go to the other parent and ask that parent what they’re doing or not doing,” she continues. “Our jobs as parents and caregivers is to empower and teach our kids, but also to learn from them.”
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If there are two parents in the picture, it is important, she adds, for them to lean on each other for support, even if one is made to look like the enemy. Share parenting tricks, parenting styles and work towards a united front.

“If there are different parenting styles, have a chat about what those styles are and agree when one parenting style should be implemented over another,” she says. “But parenting is a united front.”

And if you don’t agree with parenting styles, it’s crucial to meet somewhere down the middle. Young children ids are smart, she adds, and they will learn how to get away with certain things with one parent — which is why both parents need to be on the same page.

For teenagers, she adds, being the “enemy” can end up with arguments with your child, and in this scenario, it’s important to come from a place of calm.

“Hear what your kids have to say and definitely don’t react. Take some time to think about what they’re saying and you can respond in a thoughtful manner.”

Don’t put your relationship in the middle

And with disagreements between a child and parent, Millman says this can also lead to fights between couples. At this point, it’s important to check-in with each other.

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“Find out what the other person is doing and isn’t doing and why they feel like [the child] is choosing sides,” she says, adding it’s important to have constructive conversations and not let egos get in the way.

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“When one kid is choosing one parent over the other, it’s important to take a look at your own behaviour and your own actions. Make an adjustment to consider how your children are responding,” she continues. “As grown-ups and emotionally grounded people, it’s good to put egos side at whatever age a child is acting the way they’re acting. You want to have a positive relationship with your child.”

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