toddler not listening to one parent

If you’re in the trenches of toddlerhood, you know the daily struggle of getting your little one to lend an ear. It looks like they have an inherent code that makes them selectively deaf to one parent’s voice. 

Frustrating, right? Take a deep breath, because you’re not alone in this quirky challenge. 

Today, let’s unravel the mystery behind why our toddlers seem to have a built-in “ignore” button, especially when it comes to one of us. 

Understanding toddler development

Imagine your toddler as a little explorer feeling lots of different things. 

They’re tiny emotion detectives who don’t always have the right words to talk about their feelings. Instead, they show how they feel with their actions, like hugs or sometimes having a tantrum.

When toddlers say “no” a lot, it’s not them being naughty; they’re just trying to do things by themselves and figure out what they like. 

They watch you closely and copy what you do to learn about emotions. They’re learning the emotional ABCs from you.

Toddlers are also starting to understand that others have feelings too. So, when they share toys or try to comfort a friend, it’s the beginning of learning about caring for others.

But, sometimes big changes, like a new brother or sister or moving to a new home, can make them feel a bit mixed up inside. They need your patience and help to understand and handle all these new emotions.

toddler with parents

Reasons your toddler doesn’t listen to one parent 

There can’t be one single reason. Every toddler, every parent, every family and every scenario is different.

“Toddlers not listening to one parent can be due to inconsistent parenting styles, misaligned rules, or a preference for the more exciting caregiver. Communication style differences and personality clashes can also play a role, along with stress between parents. Sometimes, it’s just a passing phase or influenced by peer dynamics. Understanding these factors helps navigate this common yet challenging aspect of toddler development.”

Inconsistency in parenting styles

A big reason behind this could be the way Mom and Dad do things differently. Each parent has their unique style, whether it’s bedtime routines or handling little hiccups. 

If these ways don’t match up often, it can leave your toddler a bit puzzled. Toddlers are still figuring out the rules, and if the rules keep changing, it’s akin to solving a puzzle that’s always shifting. 

So, when Mom and Dad have different approaches, it’s not that your toddler is playing tricks; they’re just trying to make sense of mixed signals. 

Consistency is the key – it helps your little one understand the game plan and makes following the rules more straightforward.

Parents not aligning to rules

Think of parenting as a team effort. When Mom and Dad aren’t reading from the same rulebook, it can get a bit confusing.

For example, if one parent says, “No more snacks,” and the other slips in a cookie, it’s like a seesaw – one end goes up, the other goes down. 

Toddlers are smart observers, and if they catch onto one parent’s rules being bent, they might start tuning out that parent’s commands. 

It’s not that your toddler is intentionally breaking rules; they’re just trying to understand the game. 

So, Mom and Dad need to work together, stick to the same rules, and be consistent.

The primary caregiver is often ignored

Ever noticed your little one sometimes not paying much attention to the primary caregiver? 

When one parent often says “no” and sticks to rules, it might feel a bit routine for your adventurous toddler. 

On the flip side, the other parent, who isn’t the main caregiver, might bring in more excitement and fun. It’s a bit of a contrast – one parent sets the rules, and the other is the playmate. 

Toddlers, being naturally curious, might find the fun parent more interesting, making it easy to overlook the primary caregiver’s instructions. 

It’s not that your toddler is intentionally ignoring; they’re just naturally drawn to the more entertaining moments. Balancing fun and rules can help keep both parents in the toddler spotlight.

Communicating style difference

Toddlers don’t always respond to straightforward commands in the way we might expect. It’s not that they’re trying to be difficult; they just have their own language, and it’s a language of fun and exploration. 

Imagine one parent using more serious talk, while the other taps into the world of giggles and playfulness. 

Toddlers often find the playful approach more engaging because, for them, learning and listening happen best when it’s wrapped in a bit of fun.

Preferences and Favoritism

Just like we all have different flavors of ice cream we like, toddlers have preferences too, especially when it comes to personalities. 

It’s not that one parent is better or worse; it’s more about the unique connection your toddler feels.

For example, one parent is the gentle storyteller, while the other is the playful adventurer. 

Toddlers might lean towards the one whose style matches their own, creating a kind of special bond. It’s not intentional favoritism; it’s simply a matter of personalities clicking.

Stress between parents

Toddlers are like little emotion detectors, picking up on the vibes around them. If there’s tension or shouting, they might not understand the details, but they sense something’s off. 

It’s not that they’re choosing sides or figuring out who’s right or wrong – they just see the shouting as a sign that something isn’t quite right. If one parent raising their voice more during disagreements; toddlers might find this a bit unsettling. 

They respond in their own way, often pulling away from the parent who seems to be expressing more stress. It’s not intentional on their part; it’s just their way of reacting to the emotional atmosphere. 

So, if you sense your little one pulling away after a disagreement, it’s a cue to bring back the calm and reassure them that everything is okay.

Just a phase

It could simply be a passing phase. Toddlers are on a journey of growing up and go through different stages. 

Sometimes, they might show preferences or act a bit distant, but it doesn’t mean it’s a permanent thing. 

Think of it as a quick detour in their journey of understanding and learning. Your toddler might be trying out new behaviors, and it’s just a phase they’re going through. 

So, if you find them not quite in sync with one parent for a little while, it might just be a temporary twist in their adventurous path of development.

Peer Influence

The reason can also be the influence of their little playmates. Toddlers are tiny sponges, absorbing not just what happens at home but also what goes on in the world of playdates and daycare. 

Imagine one of their friends being super into a specific toy or activity. Your toddler, eager to join in the fun, might start adopting those interests too. 

It’s not that they’re intentionally choosing sides; it’s more about the excitement of being part of the toddler social scene. 

So, if your little one suddenly develops a liking or disliking for something that seems to align with their playmates, it’s likely just a case of peer influence. 

Embracing this social side can be a fun and natural part of your toddler’s development.

The daddy phase

Ever noticed your toddler showing a strong preference for Dad, making Mom’s instructions feel a bit unheard? 

Don’t worry; it might just be a “Daddy Phase” many parents go through. During this phase, toddlers might seek more comfort or playtime with Dad. It’s a normal part of their development, and these phases typically last a few weeks to a few months. 

As per an article published on news24, “In the beginning, a baby forms a close bond with the mom, who is often the primary caregiver. As the baby transitions into the toddler phase, she begins to recognize herself as a distinct individual apart from her mother. During this stage, other caregivers, such as the father, start to capture her interest.

So, if you find yourself in a “Daddy Phase,” it’s a passing stage in the joyful journey of parenting.

This post may contain affiliate links. Full disclosure here.

toddler with parents

Strategies for the Unheard Parent

How about some mom-approved tips to overcome the situation? (I’m a mom and I have experienced these problems.)

Navigating the phase when toddlers favor one parent is a common part of parenting. It’s important to recognize that it’s okay and doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong. Strategies include aligning parental approaches, setting consistent rules, using age-appropriate communication, and reinforcing each other’s authority. Seeking professional help is a viable option for persistent challenges in getting your toddler to listen.

First of all, it’s okay 

I know it might feel a bit challenging right now, especially when it seems like our little one is leaning more toward one of us. 

But hey, it’s totally okay, and it’s something many parents go through. Parenting is an incredible journey filled with ups and downs, and this phase is just one of those bumps in the road. 

It doesn’t mean we’re doing anything wrong; it’s just our kiddo figuring things out. 

So, let’s take a deep breath, have patience, and remind ourselves that this is part of the adventure. 

Try aligning parental approaches

If you notice your toddler is more responsive to one of you, it’s a good idea for both parents to align your parenting approaches. 

Sit down together and have an open conversation about how you handle things. Find common ground to create a consistent environment for your little one. 

If working it out on your own feels challenging, consider seeking guidance from a parenting coach. 

They can offer valuable insights to help both of you navigate this phase together. It’s about being a united front and working as a team for the benefit of your toddler.

Set Consistent Rules and Boundaries

When your toddler seems to favor one of you, setting consistent rules and boundaries can be a game-changer. 

It’s about creating a united front, ensuring that your little one receives consistent guidance, no matter which parent they’re interacting with. 

Sit down with your partner and establish some ground rules together. 

Consistency will provide a sense of stability for your toddler, helping them understand what to expect. 

This way, whether it’s Mom or Dad, the rules stay the same, making the environment more predictable and reassuring for our little explorer.

Use Age-Appropriate Communication

If you’re finding that your little one isn’t quite tuned in, especially to one parent, considering age-appropriate communication can make a significant difference. 

It’s about speaking their language, making sure our words match where they are developmentally. 

Let’s focus on simple and clear phrases, using a tone that’s friendly and inviting. Understanding how toddlers process information helps us connect better.

I highly recommend the parenting book “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk.” This book provides practical strategies to effectively communicate with toddlers, making it easier for them to listen and understand. 

It offers valuable insights on tailoring your approach to your child’s developmental stage, creating a stronger connection in your parenting interactions.

Alternate Parenting Roles

An effective strategy to tackle the situation when your toddler seems to favor one parent is to alternate parenting roles. 

It’s all about finding that balance between being the rule-setter and the fun playmate. 

By taking turns, both parents get a chance to wear both hats, creating a more balanced and engaging environment for your little one. 

This way, whether it’s time for rules or play, both Mom and Dad get to share in the joy of parenting.

The preferred parent can do the magic

If you find that your toddler is favoring one parent’s instructions, reinforcing each other’s authority can be a powerful strategy.

For instance, if the child isn’t listening to Mom, Dad can step in and gently say, “Listen to your mom.” It’s about being firm and letting your little one understand that not listening to one means missing out on the attention and guidance from both. 

This approach helps reinforce a united front and encourages your toddler to recognize and respond to both parents’ directions.

Seek professional help

In some situations, seeking professional help can be a valuable strategy. 

If you’ve tried various approaches and still find challenges in getting your toddler to listen to one parent, reaching out to a child psychologist, family therapist, or parenting coach could provide insightful guidance.


Parenting has its twists, and it’s common for toddlers to show a preference for one parent. By working together, setting clear rules, and getting help when needed, we can make things smoother. Remember, every kid is different, and finding the right balance is part of the journey. Enjoy the ups and downs, celebrate the wins, and cherish the time with your little one. You’re doing great!

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