Help! My toddler is meaner to me than to other caregivers

It’s an old story – “Baby was such an angel all day!” says their babysitter, but it’s hard to believe they’re talking about the same child as the little rugrat whose favorite word is “no,” and who is clinging to your leg like a vine. It’s easy to start to wonder if it’s something you’re doing, but the truth is that while there are plenty of families who are still trying to figure out their discipline style, the widespread phenomenon of the sudden appearance of the difficult toddler is a lot more universal than that.

Why does Baby save their bad moods for me?

There are a couple of different reasons why you might seem to get more of Baby’s frustrating or frustrated moods than other people, and the first reason is just a question of probability – the more time you spend with Baby, the better your chances are of seeing them when they're unhappy or feeling difficult. The other reason, though, is that toddlers, just like adult-sized people, tend to save their most intense feelings for the people they’re closest to. This might mean that you end up having to field a few more tantrums than anyone else Baby knows, but it also means that you get to see the sweetest moments, as they try new things, figures out the ways they most like to show affection, and explores the world around them.

Why does Baby treat me and my partner differently?

If, even among the people Baby sees the most of and loves the best, you feel like either you or your partner is getting more than a fair share of less-fun moments, that’s pretty normal, too, and it’s a phase that’s likely to pass pretty quickly. It’s common for toddlers to go through stages where one parent is the “favorite”, and a toddler is only affectionate to that parent, or it can be a more difficult type of favoritism where one parent is the prefered caregiver who they want doing all of the work, from cleaning up their post-dinner mess to brushing their teeth to singing them to sleep.

This kind of favoritism is one way that toddlers can test boundaries, and try to figure out their relationships with the people in their lives, as well as to figure out the differences between people. This favoritism can be of a parent who’s more of a primary caregiver, and is more familiar because they’re around more, but it can also go the other way, favoring the parent who’s out of the house more, as a way of clinging to that parent once they’re home. In either case, it’s a tendency that won’t last forever, and you and your partner can gently nudge it towards ending a little sooner by being firm about the division of labor in your home – even if you’re not the “favorite” right now, you’re a part of your toddler’s daily routine, and they doesn’t get to decide otherwise.

  • T. Berry Brazelton, Joshua D. Sparrow. Touchpoints. De Capo Press. 2006. Print.

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