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How to cope when your baby plays favorites

Popularity contests are one of those things you probably grew out long before you became a parent, but even if you’re older and wiser, that doesn’t mean Baby is. And once he starts to get old enough to make his preferences known, you may find yourself caught up in a popularity contest that has one very small and very specific judge: your child.

Picking a favorite parent, caregiver, or other significant adult in his life is one of those developmental stages that’s a bit like crawling – a lot of children use it as an important step towards what comes next, but some children also skip over it entirely. Unlike crawling, though, there’s a good chance that this phase will be repeated again later, sometimes with a different parent, and sometimes with the same one. Playing favorites can be a way for children to exert their independence, to explore different relationships, or to test whether you’ll still be there for them even when they’re not being nice to you. Unfortunately, it’s basically impossible to know whether Baby is testing how conditional your love is, or just enjoying the novelty of the parent who isn’t around quite as often for a little while.

Knowing it’s normal doesn’t make it any easier to deal with, though, Having your child show significantly less enthusiasm for spending time with you, or even seem not to care whether you’re with him, hurts. Showing that you’re hurt can only make the problem worse, though, since if your child senses that there might be a problem with your relationship with him, it won’t matter where that problem started. Rather, it could just drive him even deeper into the arms of your partner, mother, or his babysitter.

So if honestly sharing your feelings with your child is a dangerous way to go, what can you do to get past this phase instead? Presenting a united front among Baby’s parents and caregivers is a good foundation to build off of. Whether you’re the parental flavor of the month or the parent in the dog house, it’s important not to let it affect your relationship with your partner. And beyond just standing together and presenting a united front, the parent who’s in favor can also lend a hand by talking his or her partner up to Baby to help build his enthusiasm. If you’ve got the power to win friends and influence people (or even just your child), why not use it?

You can also remind Baby of how much fun the out-of-favor parent is by letting them take on some of the more fun parts of Baby’s routine. If your little one loves his bath, or story time before bed, that might be a good job for his (temporarily) less-favored caregiver to have a chance with. If that doesn’t seem to be working, or doesn’t fit into your family’s routine, starting a new bonding activity with the parent Baby isn’t as enthusiastic about at the moment can help with this problem and create a bond that could be important for years to come.

If Baby protests, or demands his current “favorite” parent instead, it’s a good idea to decide ahead of time where your limits for indulging him in those kinds of demands are. Maybe it’s okay for him to get his way about bedtime, but when it comes to who helps him get dressed in the morning, if he doesn’t like the status quo, he may just have to deal with it.

In the end, though, sometimes the best way of dealing with Baby’s occasional bouts of favoritism is to wait it out and show that you love him, because he certainly still loves you, favorite or not.

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