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Managing Parent Preference

How to Get Your Toddler to Embrace Quality Time with Both Parents

At the end of a looooooong day with your kid, there’s nothing better than hearing your partner say, “You’ve done so much today. I’ll take care of bathtime and bedtime. You just relax.”

Ummmm, you had us at, “I’ll take care of…”

But just as you’re sinking into the couch cueing up your netflix binge, you hear it: the cries of a devastated toddler echoing down the hall and right into your heart.

“Daddy no do bath. Mommy do bath. MOMMY DO BATH!!!”
(For the record, parent preference isn’t always Mom, and parent preference is a thing in alllllll kinds of beautiful families. So, no matter what YOUR beautiful family looks like, at some point, there has probably been a preferred parent, this plan is for you)

Uuuuuuuuuuugggggggggghhhhhhhh. So much for tapping out for the night.

It’s exhausting to be the “chosen” one, isn’t it? Being the go-to for every little thing is enough to make you hate the sound of your own name. 

And if you’re the one they don’t want? It’s equally frustrating and, honestly, heartbreaking. You want to be a good parent and a good partner, but it’s so tough when your child acts like they can’t even stand having to breathe the same air as you.

We know it seems “easier” to just let your child decide who does what. And it is easier—but only at first. Sooner than later, it’ll all go south. One parent will get even more burned out. The other parent will continue to feel kicked to the curb. Most importantly, your toddler will end up with waaaaaaaay more power than they’re developmentally ready to handle. It might seem like your toddler craves all the power and control, but actually, they feel safer knowing that you, the parent, is picking the big stuff, holding the boundaries, and running the ship safely.

So how about we shift the decision-making back to you, spread out the quality time out, and teach your toddler to enjoy time with both parents? You’ll be able to actually relax on the couch again in no time.

Step #1: Start Small

When you’re at the end of your rope, it’s tempting to change anything and everything—all at the same time. But for these strategies to stick, you’re going to need to start small, choosing just one routine or activity to work on. 

So if you’re currently dealing with a situation where only mommy is allowed to fix your toddler’s dinner plate every night, and only daddy can do bathtime, choose ONE instead of trying to tackle both together.

Step #2: Prep Your Toddler

If you’ve taken our online course, Winning the Toddler Stage, you’re already aware of how much the toddler brain likes to be in-the-know. So before you make ANY change, you’ve gotta give ‘em a heads up. 

Prepping your toddler might sound like:

“Starting tonight, mommy and daddy are going to take turns doing bathtime. We both love you and love doing bathtime with you, so we’re going to take turns. Tonight will be daddy’s turn, and then tomorrow will be mommy’s turn. We’re going to make a chart together to help us remember whose turn it is.”

Don’t be afraid to talk about the upcoming change more than once. Repetition is your friend!

Step #3: Use a Visual

Toddler’s are v. v. concrete thinkers. To help them better understand the concept of “taking turns,” create a chart to track the process. 

Put the days of the week, and you/your partners face on each day, alternating days. 

Like the prep step, a chart works to reduce meltdown-inducing anxiety and uncertainty. Plus, if we’re keeping it real, the chart also keeps our parent brains from having to try and remember whose turn it is.

Pro Tip: Create excitement and ownership over the chart by letting your little one help you assemble or decorate it.

Step #4: Let Them Lead (Something Age-Appropriate)

Tap into your toddler’s desire to be in charge by giving them an age-appropriate leadership opportunity. 

While being in charge of who does what and when is too big a responsibility for your toddler, putting them in charge of something small will help keep a tantrum at bay. For example, have them check the chart to see whose turn it is to do bathtime, and then have them cross off each day. That’s the perfect amount of responsibility for their little brains, and they’ll feel proud each time they do their part.

Try using this script to empower your child:

“Okay, it’s going to be bathtime in two minutes. Let’s check the chart to see whose turn it is. Can you point to whose turn it is? Yes! It’s mommy’s turn to do bathtime. Let’s mark it off on the chart with a sticker. Do you want a blue sticker or a red sticker?”

Step #5: Reinforce the Plan

You’ll wrap up the steps by reassuring your toddler of your love and reminding them of whose turn comes next. 

It can be as simple as saying, “I had so much fun doing bathtime with you tonight. Tomorrow night will be daddy’s turn again, and I’ll do bathtime the day after.”

This won’t be the only time you remind them of whose turn comes next, and you can have them check the chart at any time. But don’t miss the opportunity to help them feel secure in the moment.

In the Event of Pushback

No matter how “well” you follow the plan, your toddler may still push back on the change, simply because it’s a change. 

Their pushback doesn’t mean you give up. It means you stick to your decisions and then support your little one through any upset feelings they have about those decisions. It’s absolutely ok Remember: You’re not only addressing the immediate issue of parent preference; you’re also teaching your kiddo life skills.

So when your toddler has big feelings about mommy doing bathtime, you’re going to stay cool and calm and say something like:

“You feel sad because it isn’t daddy’s turn to do bathtime. It’s okay to feel sad. Tonight is mommy’s turn to do bathtime, then tomorrow will be daddy’s turn. Do you want to play with your truck or your car in the bathtub?”

You may have to repeat this several times, and if bathtime includes tears, it’s okay! We’re working the long game here. Over time—and often more quickly than you think—your toddler will settle into the new routine and enjoy it! Be sure to okay those feelings, and support them through it.

Want More Meltdown-Minimizing Strategies?

Our online course, Winning the Toddler Stage, features step-by-step game plans and scripts to help you confidently address your toddler’s big feelings and strong preferences. 

From using (or refusing) the potty, their carseat, or their bed, to embracing new food, new situations, or new siblings, our course is here to help you (and your toddler) thrive together from ages 1-6. Get the course and start winning at parenting today.

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