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  • Jessica Berk

Break the Mommy Obsession at Bedtime | How to Deal When Your Toddler Prefers One Parent

If you’ve got a toddler, chances are you’ve experienced parental preference before - it’s the somewhat-sweet-yet-rather-annoying sound of “I just want MOMMY!”

Whether it’s for getting dressed, getting dropped off at school, or just being pushed on the swing, kids can be very persistent when it comes to which caregiver they want to do certain things with them.

Here are 7 ways to navigate the minefield that’s created when your toddler prefers one parent.


>>Watch this blog on my Awesome Little Sleepers YouTube channel! 👇


My toddler definitely prefers one parent - what the heck?

Parental preference is very, very common with toddlers and preschoolers and can show up all through the day with many activities - going potty, holding hands to walk down the street, etc. But bedtime tends to be one of the most difficult activities to navigate.

I hear from families on a daily basis: moms saying their 5-year-old will only let her put them to bed, or dads complaining that he’s the 'chosen one' at night and if mom even tries to come in the room, the child has a total meltdown.

But with work schedules, other siblings, and obligations to juggle, dealing with strong parental preference at bedtime can put a real strain on families.

It can leave the chosen parent feeling exhausted and resentful that they’re carrying the responsibility for bedtime every single night. It can also leave the other parent feeling left out and helpless.

I’m a firm believer that parents should be in charge and able to choose who handles the toddler bedtime routine, not the child.

After all, it may not always be possible for the chosen parent to be home at bedtime. And you’re going to want to have a babysitter put them to bed every now and then! All the bedtime responsibility can’t fall to just one person.

Why has this become our toddler bedtime routine?

Maybe your child just likes the way one parent does bedtime. Maybe mom sings more songs. Or maybe dad is sillier and uses funny voices when he reads.

But maybe it’s not even about how someone does bedtime, and rather it’s just about the child asserting some control. At these ages, many behaviors are simply about them trying to get some control over their little lives.

Why does it seem particularly bad at bedtime? It’s late, everyone is tired. Maybe when the child puts up a fight and really starts begging dad to let mom put her to bed, it’s easier to just let mom do it, so you give in. It’s understandable.

This is, of course, reinforcing the fact that the more they cry and beg, the more likely they are to get their way. It’s a vicious cycle.

It’s important that you know that parental preference is NOT about the child loving one parent more than another. It’s totally normal and a phase that most (all?) kids typically go through. And, don’t worry, the mom phase typically flip-flops after a few weeks or months to a dad phase. No parent is safe!

So how do we break this parental preference thing?

Here are 7 ideas to break the parental preference problem at bedtime:

1. Decide you want to make a change, and accept that there may be tears.

Commit to overcoming the bedtime challenge. Remind yourself that the other parent or caregiver is totally competent and your child is safe and will be fine.

2. Give the child some control over the steps in the bedtime routine.

Make sure your child loves their bedtime routine. Have them write out the steps on a piece of paper. This also gives anyone who handles bedtime the step-by-steps of what should happen. No matter who handles bedtime, the steps are the same. And let the kid be the boss at bedtime - telling the parent what’s next.

3. Tag team the toddler bedtime routine.

Once you have the steps of the routine decided, have the other parent shadow and learn exactly how bedtime is done by the chosen parent so they can mimic it.

4. The chosen parent leaves the house.

Sometimes it’s easier if the chosen parent simply isn’t an option at bedtime. They can hit the grocery store or even drive down the block and read a book.

5. Keep a token from the chosen parent.

Let the child snuggle with a shirt that has been worn by the parent to help them feel cozy and connected.

6. Help position the child as a caregiver.

Put the child in charge of taking a favorite doll or lovey in bed with them. Give the child a chance to act parental by doing a little bedtime routine and tucking in the lovey. This helps them feel more independent, like a Big Girl or Boy.

7. Make sure the child is a solo sleeper.

Getting through the bedtime routine can be hard enough. Make sure the parent is able to leave the room before the child falls asleep. When the child needs a parent to stay while they fall asleep, this just increases the parental reliance and preference and is just one more hurdle to overcome.

Try out one of these ideas tonight so you can share the load.

Sleep Tight!


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