Children, especially ones under the age of 5, are reliant on their primary caregivers for survival. It is an innate awareness in them that they are unconsciously and systematically navigating. The preferences from one parent to the other are not personal but survival-based.
When a child recognizes one parent is more available than the other, they fight to keep it that way because their need for care and connection is crucial. They are protecting and preferring that relationship as it’s the one that has proven to be the most consistent with providing results.
This has nothing to do with a child’s lack of love for or preference for a parent. This is a form of a child’s ability to recognize the path of least resistance to getting basic needs met and should be praised by the parent they are “pushing away.”
When children recognize the most comfortable, reliable, habitual relationship with a parent, they will lean into that because it’s the easiest path. Honor that, commend them for it.
“I see you want, Daddy; I totally get it. Daddy is available, and I am available too. I’m here if you need me. I respect your choice, and I love you.”
“I hear you. You want Mommy to bathe you. I know Mommy is usually the one who bathes you, and that makes you feel safe. I am available today, and I will keep you safe, too, I promise. Mommy will be available to give you your bath tomorrow. It’s ok if you feel sad about this. I am here for you, and I love you.”
“I hear you saying you want Daddy to help you into the car. I know you love it when Daddy helps you because you love spending time with him. I love spending time with Daddy, too, so I get it! He isn’t available right now, but he will be another time. I am here now, and I can help you. It’s ok that you want Daddy. I totally get it. He’s awesome!”
The most important and supportive contribution for a parent to make in these scenarios is to honor and acknowledge a child’s preference with acceptance and understanding free of personal attachment. It really has nothing to do with you, and by honoring and acknowledge a child’s preference you are communicating:
“I recognize your brilliant ability to recognize how to get your physical and emotional needs met, and I will never stand in the way.”
The pure acceptance of this is a way to remind your child that you are also available for them and acts as a reminder that they can trust and rely on you.
When parents take it personally, children know and begin to sense parental insecurity. Any insecurity a child senses in a parent will signal them to push them farther away in an attempt to seek a more competent and capable caregiver. What children seek and respond to the most is consistency, safety, acceptance, and connection.
Children under 5 are too young to appreciate and/or show their gratitude because that part of the brain develops much later. The first few years of life are consumed with thoughts that revolve around eating for survival, physical development, and effective communication forms.
It’s going to be up to parents to commend themselves and one other for the very significant contributions and sacrifices you make for your children every day. This is not a burden your children can or should have to carry as it will have detrimental effects on their future relationship dynamics.
The act of consistently and confidently being around and unconditionally available is the most effective way to foster trust and emotional stability in children.
It is impossible to be available for children 100% of the time, but it is possible and most beneficial to be 100% present when available.
During the times your children are in the care of others, including their other parent, it’s by honoring your children’s relationships with those caregivers that keep their trust and desire to be with you intact.
Your children want you to lead them because it permits them to be leaders in their own lives. Don’t be afraid to step into your power as a parent.