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Bedtime Struggles: When Your Child Prefers One Parent Over the Other

Bedtime tips: Mom and daughter reading a book on a couch - sharing tips on what to do when your child prefers one parent over the other.

It’s bedtime and your child is exhausted. It’s been a long day of parenting and you’re tired too. Dinner is finished and it’s time to wind down into your child’s bedtime routine. You run them a bubble bath, put on their pajamas and help them brush their teeth. Your child picks out their favorite books to cuddle up with and then suddenly the bedtime battles begin. “I want Daddy to put me to bed!” Or maybe tonight it’s “I only want mommy to read to me!” Does this sound familiar? You are not alone. Here’s what to do when your child prefers one parent over the other at bedtime.

Children thrive with routine and structure

They need to know what’s coming next and what is expected of them at bedtime. Make family sleep rules to help your child understand what bedtime is going to be like. The rules can be simple including I take a bath, get in my pajamas, brush my teeth, read books, hugs and kisses, I close my eyes and stay in my bed until the morning. Get your child involved by allowing them to decorate the sleep rules poster with crayons, markers and stickers etc. Read over the sleep rules each night and stay consistent to help prepare your child for sleep each night. 

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Have a conversation with your child about their feelings at bedtime

Sometimes picking one parent over the other has nothing to actually do with the parent. It’s often a child’s way of trying to foster connection at bedtime. As hard as it is, try not to take it personally if your child picks the other parent over you. Children tend to have big feelings held in all day and sometimes they come flooding out at bedtime. Help your child process their feelings by taking time to listen to their fears and worries.   

Bring some humour into the bedtime routine

Start by validating your child’s feelings, for example say “I hear you want mommy to put you to bed tonight. Mommy is working and tonight you get special time with me at bedtime.” Next make your interaction fun by pointing to the potty and saying “is this your bed?” Do it again and again with other places in their room that are clearly not their bed. Laughing with your child is a great way to connect and process a child’s feelings of separation anxiety that may come creeping in just as it’s time to go to bed. Continue to make it fun by pretending to put on their pajamas and ask if they will fit you or grab their toothbrush and ask “is this my toothbrush?”. After lots of belly laughs together, thank your child for being so flexible with the schedule. 

As parent’s it’s important we teach our children that bedtime can be fun with either parent. This will also help the bedtime routine operate smoother. Life can challenging to juggle; one parent may be at work, tending to another child, need a break or simply not available at bedtime. Having both parents get on the same page and work together as a team can help create a healthy balance and give each parent the support they need. 

Ali Lazar
Ali Lazar
Ali Lazar is a certified Child Sleep Consultant from the well renowned Family Sleep Institute and trained Good Night Educator and sleep consultant with Good Night Sleep Site. She enjoys the opportunity to support, listen and learn. Ali also enjoys gathering new parents together to discuss everything sleep. Ali lives in Brentwood, California with her 3-year old son who she adores. She loves to have dance parties & movie nights with her toddler, watch the sunset and stroll the Brentwood Farmers Market on Sundays.
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