The Toddler Daddy Phase: Why it Happens/How to Cope


Daddy Phase

Does your young toddler suddenly want nothing to do with you when daddy is around? Do they have a meltdown when he simply leaves the room to go the the bathroom…or even worse…he actually leaves?? Are you feeling left out and rejected…maybe as though they prefer dad over you? If you answered yes to these questions, it’s likely your little one is experiencing the toddler daddy phase. But now to worry, this phase is part of a healthy developmental stage of growth.

A Sign of Autonomy and Independence from Mom

It’s not unusual for young toddlers to reject mom in favor of dad at some point. Until about 18 months, toddlers cannot differentiate themselves from their primary caregiver (usually mom). Around this age is when toddlers begin to develop a sense of autonomy. As soon as they realize they’re their own person, there’s a whole new world of people to explore. Dad is suddenly fascinating and interesting…and mom, well, not so much.

Toddler Daddy Phase

This Phase is Linked to Object Permanence

The toddler daddy phase is linked to object permanence (a developmental theory by Child Psychologist, Jean Piaget). This theory is part of the social and emotional development in which the brain begins to make more connections. During this stage of development a toddler begins to be able to make an internal representation of their primary caregiver (usually mom) in their minds when she is gone, giving them the security that she will return to them, and therefore leaving them more secure and comfortable experimenting with other people (usually dad).

How Does Object Permanence Relate to Your Toddler Clinging to Dad?

Now that your toddler has developed the ability to understand that although mommy isn’t here right now but will return later, they suddenly have more security, which leads to a sense of independence to explore other relationships.

However, toddlers don’t yet have the capacity to understand that daddy, too, will return when he leaves since this is a newer relationship in which they are unable to make the internal representations, giving them less security when daddy leaves. This might explain why your toddler doesn’t get as upset when you leave but has a literal meltdown when daddy leaves.

This may also have to do with the fact that toddlers often see fathers less than mothers, giving them less security in their relationship with dad.

Mom = Nurture While Dad = Play

One other component that enhances their new obsession with daddy is the fact that dad offers a dimension of play and exploration that quite frankly is just more exciting that the more nurturing role that mom plays. Now that your toddler has developed independence and freedom of choice it is only natural to begin to gravitate towards fun and exciting dad over the more practical and nurturing mom. This does not mean they love mom less or even prefer dad over mom…it is just two different relationships that provide different yet equally important needs for your young toddler.

How to cope with the toddler daddy phase

The Toddler Daddy Phase is Normal and Healthy

The toddler daddy phase is completely normal and healthy. It is a sign that your toddler has developed a sense of self and autonomy. This phase in conjunction with object permanence can develop anywhere from 8-10 months old to over two years old. Not to worry, this phase doesn’t last that entire time!

How to Cope

  1. Don’t respond in anger or withdraw from your child: By letting your feelings affect your interactions with your child, they may feel as though your bond is damaged, which may cause them to become detached.
  2. Make sure your interactions with dad remain positive: If you manifest a situation where it’s “me vs. them” it will only lead to further detachment as well as potential marital problems.
  3. Talk about your feelings with your partner: Being open and honest can help your partner better understand and potentially encourage them to to include mom more so you feel less isolated.
  4. Do things as a family: Doing things as a family will only enhance the overall bond between all of you. If you do too many things separately from one another it sends a message to you toddler that these two relationships truly are isolated, causing even more detachment down the road.

If you are feeling rejected, remember this is a sign of healthy development and is setting a foundation for a healthy relationship between father and child for the rest of their lives. Don’t worry mom, they will always have a different but equally special bond with you too.


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