Parenting Support


I was asked to write an article for a parenting magazine about parental preference, ie why children seem to prefer one parent over the other?

This got me thinking – and led to quite a long answer! I felt that it would be good to share some of the issues with you – especially as I extended my answers to parents, grandparents and teachers. In fact, to all adults who are important in the lives of children.
Of course, there are always the basic factors. Temperament is one of these. Shy, introvert children often feel intimidated by loud, dominant adult temperaments – and will then pull away from these adults. While quiet, gentle adults  may be overwhelmed by extravert, boundary-testing children! Children seem to come with an inborn “radar” system – they need this to determine, from a very young age, whether the world is safe or not. They pick up all the nuances of adult verbal and non-verbal behaviour, and try to make sense of this as they grow and develop. They will naturally gravitate towards people and situations that induce emotional and physical safety. This may feel like preference towards one parent or teacher over another, but is in fact a natural reaction which helps determine that very necessary sense of acceptance and understanding – so important for healthy development.
Children are also very good at manipulating situations – and may take opportunities to create division eg by complaining to one parent about another or saying negative things about a teacher. The important adult skill is to be able to listen, decode the message – and respond appropriately. If a child says she is upset with her other parent or with her teacher, show empathy and remain objective. The chief goal is to prevent alienation between the child and the parent or teacher. However, if the child continues to appear unhappy with an adult, then it does need to be taken seriously – maybe that “radar” alert is picking up warning signals and the child needs to be assisted to cope.
I truly believe that it is up to the adults in a child’s life to hold up a figurative mirror and ask some important questions, which may involve challenging ones own attitudes and skills.
1) Do I accept a child’s uniqueness – or am I irritated by certain aspects of temperament. There is no doubt that some children are harder to like than others!
2) Am I able to show empathy while balancing this with firmness? Understand the feeling while making it clear that certain behaviours are unacceptable.
3) Am I able to enforce boundaries while remaining calm and non-judgemental? Shouting and threats only induce an atmosphere of fear and anxiety.
4) Do the children in my family / classroom feel emotionally and physically safe when with me?
5) Is it possible for me to accept that sometimes I will not be “the flavour of the month” – but I am mature enough not to take it too personally?
6) Am I guilty of alienating my child/ren against the other parent or her teachers? As parents and teachers we need to sometimes admit that we gain a sense of esteem from being the preferred one!
So – good luck with the self reflection. We are vital role models in our children’s lives -their well developed “radar” systems will navigate them towards adults who instil feelings of calm, containment and confidence.