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Toddler Attachments: What's Normal?

Toddler Attachments: What’s Normal?

By Amalah

Hi Amy,

My daughter is 14 months old. She sees her dad every other weekend and Wednesdays (this arrangement started when she was 10 months old). I am an older than average mother and I was emotionally stressed during my pregnancy. I work outside the home and my daughter is in daycare (she seems to like her provider and the other kids). I love my daughter more than anything in the world. I am very nurturing- I still nurse, we co sleep, we play and read. We have a pretty consistent schedule. Except for the first couple of times I had to drop her off at her dad’s she doesn’t cry for me and now she wants to go to him and for the last few weeks when her dad brings her home she doesn’t want to come to me. I try not to feel rejected when she doesn’t want to come to me after I haven’t been with her all weekend but it does get to me. Is this within normal behavior? Just a phase? It also concerns me that she has recently been going up to strangers with no fear with her arms up like she wants to be held.

Thank you.

Absolutely normal, although I know it can sting. But take heart: Your daughter’s “rejection” of you around her father is in fact, evidence of her secure, confident attachment to YOU.

Yes, really. I can’t say ALL toddlers and young children do this, but the vast majority of parents I know (and I include myself here) have had their child go through a preferred parent phase. And anecdotally at least, the “preferred parent” tends to be the parent who is NOT the primary caregiver. She doesn’t spend as much time with her dad as you, and she’s old enough to be aware that her time with him is limited and special. The fact that maybe she’d prefer more time with him has NOTHING to do with her wanting less time with you. Toddlers her age just don’t really think in those zero sum terms yet.

My sons all went through a DADDY DADDY DADDY phase, where suddenly Daddy coming home was the greatest thing in the world and Daddy leaving for work was the absolute worst. Me? Meh. Our babysitter would show up and I’d head to my home office and they wouldn’t even acknowledge the transition. Or I’d pick them up from school and they’re be like, “oh hey” while DADDY got the big YAYYYYY response with big hugs and kisses for performing the same task. They wanted Daddy to give baths and read bedtime stories, not me.

It passes. It really does. Some toddlers will even reverse course and suddenly prefer the other parent, to the point of having separation anxiety.

(That’s my youngest right now. He flipped from his dad to me at some point this year and let me tell you: As much as it hurts to not feel like the “favorite” it can also be somewhat exhausting and guilt-inducing when your child openly prefers you and demands your attention/presence 100% of the time.)

But point is: Your daughter is deeply, healthily attached to you, to the point that she feels comfortable separating from you – and even pushing you away a little bit, deliberately or otherwise – because she knows you will always be there for her. Your love is unconditional and you are a safe, reliable presence in her world. This is a good thing. You’re doing things right, Mama.

As for the stranger thing…also normal. She’s too little to understand the danger or that it’s an inappropriate boundary. She’s a baby with a lot of kind, loving adults in her life and she sees the world as a whole as kind and loving. There is plenty of time before this worldview needs to be shattered. You really can’t start on the “stranger danger” talks until she’s about 3 or 4, and even then you don’t want to instill a fear of all strangers, but more of a healthy note of caution about certain situations. (Someone asking her to get in their car, claiming that you sent them, asking for hugs, uncomfortable touching, etc. And since non-strangers can do all these things too, it’s really best to focus on red flag behaviors/situations, rather than JUST the stranger aspect.) In the meantime, stay close in situations where she’s prone to approaching strangers this way (but no need to hover/helicopter). Most adults will think it’s cute, honestly, and you might notice that she’s choosing people she sees as mommy/daddy/grandparent types.

And once again, remind yourself that this behavior is yet another sign that your daughter feels safe and secure in her place in the world, and that’s a great foundation for a happy, well-adjusted child (and adult).

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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