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Parent Preference: At Bedtime and Overnight

Updated: Mar 17

Have you noticed your little one showing preference for one parent? Maybe they scream and cry when the other parent tries to take over bedtime or responds to a night wake. It is so common for little ones to go through parental preference in the first few years of life. This doesn’t mean that the other parent isn’t loved or doesn’t have a strong bond with their child. This also doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong! Parental preference is just something that can happen, maybe even more so when there is a primary caregiver.

What can you do?

It is OK for baby to prefer one parent for right now. It is also OK for that parent to need a break sometimes! Doing all of the care or bedtime or night wakes on your own can be exhausting! Keep in mind that making changes may lead to some tears of frustration for your little one. This is ok and very normal! Your partner can stay there to hold them and support them through these emotions. As long as they can remain calm and regulated, everyone will be just fine and adjust in time.

How to handle bedtime

Before the other parent steps in for bedtime care, it’s best to try and prepare baby. Talk them through what’s going to happen. Ensure you are spending time connecting with your little one throughout the day and practice supporting emotions and boundaries during the daytime first. Have your partner get involved with the bedtime routine while both of you can participate before having them take over completely.

It can be frustrating and exhausting for everyone when the ”non-preferred” parent tries to take over care. Baby may get more worked up and take longer to calm. Bedtime may take slightly longer and that is OK! Stick with it and try to avoid having the preferred parent always just take over care.

Your partner can practice supporting emotions by saying things such as:

  • “I understand that you really want mommy. It is upsetting when she can’t do bedtime with you. I am here with you to support you.”

  • “I love you so much and I am so excited to do bedtime with you tonight! Let’s pick out which books we want to read together.”

  • ”Mommy is going to give you a hug and kiss and then I will read you a book and cuddle with you until you fall asleep. What song do you want to sing tonight?

Creating a strong attachment

It is crucial for your little one to build secure attachments with their caregivers. They creat these attachments with those who play with them and respond to their needs. Having a secure attachment is also critical for your little one when it comes to bedtime and night wakes. They are going to feel most comfortable with those whom they have a strong attachment to.

You can foster this connection and attachment by:

  • Learning your little one’s unique cues and responding as best you can to them

  • Interacting and playing with baby regularly

  • Responding to baby’s needs for attention- talk with them, smile at them, pick them up when they reach for you, etc

  • Consistently respond to cries (both day and night) and attempt to soothe them

When you respond to your little one consistently, they learn that they can depend on you and trust you. This is the foundation for secure attachment. Therefore, if your little one is dealing with parental preference, it is so so important for the other partner to work to build a solid attachment with them. Especially if they are maybe away from the home for work most of the day.

Parental preference can be so challenging for everyone involved. The preferred parent may be needing a break and the other parent may be wanting to be able to soothe baby. And baby may not be understanding why they can’t just have their preferred parent. Please know this time will pass and it is not a reflection of their love or bond with either parent.

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