Baby causes toddler to reject mom

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  February 28, 2011 06:00 AM

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

Hi,

My daughter is 2 1/2. Since my son was born in December, she has refused me and only wanted her father ("no not you, I want Daddy, I don't want you"). She is in constant need for her father to pick her up and be with her at all times, holding her. If he leaves the room, she screams for him not to go, and if he is holding our son, she demands that he be put back in Mommy's arms. Because of this, my husband has not formed a bond with his son and the rejection I feel from my daughter is overwhelming.

When we first brought him home, if I was nursing, she would try to get into my lap and lay on top of him. Now she just refuses to be near me at all. She LOVES her brother; she always wants to hold him and touch him. But even if I ask for a hug or kiss, I am not going to get one.

I am not sure what to do. I wonder how long this will last. The rejection is very painful; she has always been a Daddy's girl but has never refused me. Last night she had a cry so hard she vomited because I was going to give her a bath instead of her Dad.

Any advice would be welcome.

Thanks,
Heartbroken in Halifax, Nova Scotia

Dear Heartbroken,

Pretend for a moment that your husband came home and told you, "Honey, I love you sooo much and it's such a wonderful experience being your husband, that I've decided to get another wife. You don't mind, do you?"

That kind of sums up how your daughter feels: How dare you bring this baby into my house! And she's communicating her anger, confusion, and hurt to you in the only way she knows know: by rejecting you. Here's the good news: It's a phase, it's very typical, and it will pass. Here's the bad news: It can take a while to pass -- months, not weeks -- and you can make it worse if you take it personally.

That means avoiding saying things like, "Don't you love me as much as daddy?" or, "You're making me feel so sad!"

There are two things going on here, from her perspective. She's asking not only, "Why did you do this to me?" but also,"Will you still be there for me, no matter how mean I am to you?" She's looking to know that you still love her unconditionally, even though you have this new baby, even though she's using the biggest weapon she has to hurt you.

Dad, of course, plays a role here, too. If it's your turn to put her to bed and she insists on daddy, he can't "rescue" her by coming in and reading; that sends a message that, (a) mom really isn't as good as dad is; and (b) she really does need dad and only dad. Instead, dad comes into the room, tells her firmly, "It's mommy's turn to read tonight. Tomorrow it will be my turn again," kisses her goodnight and leaves. If she winds up, you need to sit there and tell her, "I'll wait until you can stop crying and then we can read." Your job is to wait her out. The first time may be hard. It will get easier. (It's awful to have your child make herself so sick from crying that she's vomiting. A compromise might be for dad to sit in the doorway while mom reads: "It's mom's turn, but I'd like to hear the story; is it OK if I sit at the door and listen?" Then dad needs to be clear that that's all he can/will do. You may have to play around with this.)

You might also want to create some special "Mom & Me" time when you are with your daughter doing something she enjoys, probably outside the house. That gives dad some alone time with the baby and alone time for you with her. In the meantime, don't antagonize the situation anymore than necessary but don't bend over backwards in the other direction, either. Dad can and should hold the baby in her presence; to not to gives her way too much power. Click here for other strategies.

Child psychiatrist Judith Robinson of Tufts Medical Center says that even though this is a very common phenomenon, it's harder on some women than on others, and harder on some children than others.If your child can't bounce back once you are together, or you can't get over how sad this makes you, seek a professional consult.

By the way, whatever you do, don't leave her alone with the baby. Impulses come over young children quickly.

I answer a question from a reader every weekday. If you want help with some aspect of child-rearing, just write to me here.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

14 comments so far...
  1. My daughter is 2.2 and does all that same crazy stuff. No new baby in our house, just a 5 year old brother. I would file that under 2 year old being a 2 year old. Thoughts: look at her health, is she sick? ear infection? healthy? any issues of her own? hungry? tired? off schedule? under stimulated and needs to be in a school environment that is stimulating or sign up for interesting classes? bored and frustrated from being stuck inside all winter? Give her lots of individual attention - read her books while you're nursing, get on the floor and play with her, etc. , ride out this phase and set limits. Don't take a 2 year olds behavior personally--this too shall pass.

    Posted by rachel weinstein February 28, 11 09:59 AM
  1. Why have Dad ask if it is OK if he sits at the door and listents. Is this a good time/place to give a 2yo a choice? Why not have dad say "I will sit at the door and listen."

    Posted by Teri olsen February 28, 11 11:30 AM
  1. My son was this way when his brother 1st came home too. Some things that really helped. 1. A very special outing without the baby, it wasn't long, but helped to show him he was as important to me. 2. Instead of getting upset when he tried to squished the baby (mostly it was accidental 2 yr olds still are not very aware of body space or effects of their actions. I told him I had 2 hands one for each boy & the hand on the side I was not nursing on was for him, so he would get to snuggle too & watch a show or read a book with me while the baby was nursing. Also letting them "hold" the baby on a pillow on their lap and giving them a job of big helper to mom (my son used to hand me diapers, put non smelly diapers in the diaper pail, and try to wipe the babies bum after it was already cleaned up, I used to put powder on my sister's bottom). And also continue to tell her that you know she is mad at you, but you still love her no matter what.

    Posted by Faye February 28, 11 12:07 PM
  1. Barbara's answer is so awesome....just keep reminding yourself that it's not about you, she doesn't mean what she's saying, and it's your job as a parent to keep her on track (by following Barbara's suggestions).

    Her tantrums will ease up when she learns that they won't help her get her own way.

    Big hugs to you!

    Posted by cause-and-effect February 28, 11 12:24 PM
  1. I can't get over the first paragraph, one of the funniest analogies I've seen and makes the point perfectly.

    Posted by JT February 28, 11 01:35 PM
  1. Just be the grownup and don't feel hurt by this. It's a phase. It will pass.
    You could also try getting some books for your daughter, like "I'm a Big Sister" by Joanna Cole, "The Berenstain Bears' New Baby", etc.

    Teri olsen, you don't sound like a parent to me. At this age I've found that it's often an excellent strategy to let the child pick one of two acceptable choices. It gives her a sense of control.

    Posted by geocool February 28, 11 02:52 PM
  1. I agree with geocool.

    Just put yourself in a 2-year-old's shoes. Absolutely everything in her life is dictated by others, and often those decisions are things she doesn't understand or agree with. "Why are we getting in the car now? Why do I have to wear snow pants? Why are you turning off the TV? etc. etc."

    The biggest change in her life is suddenly having to share Mommy with a new little one who demands Mommy's time round the clock. Giving the 2-year-old some say in her environment can only help her feel like not everything is arbitrary. Her opinion matters, and one way to let her know that is by giving her some choices, albeit in relatively trivial areas.

    I had heard the analogy before about imagining your husband told you he loved you but was bringing home a new wife -- but the version I heard went a step or two further. Imagine he tells you that since the new spouse is so new, she doesn't have to do any chores around the house and, oh yeah, she's going to sleep between the two of you in bed, too. You'd feel insecure, unloved and that the situation was completely unreasonable and unfair. Pretty much what kids feel when a new child enters the picture. Of course, they don't feel that way every minute, but the change rocks the firm foundation they thought they were on.

    So patience, love and understanding are required -- pretty much the same stuff kids need every day anyway. 8-)

    Posted by SandyEE February 28, 11 03:53 PM
  1. @Geocool, I am a mom, my kids are 27 and 25. I'm all for giving appropriate choices, and AT THE RIGHT TIME asking if it's OK, but when a child is having a meltdown is not the time to say "is it OK"?
    I learned with my kids when to say "OK?" questioningly and when NOT to. When I gave two choices, I didn't add "OK?" because that opens the playing field for the child to say no, that's not OK. It's the one piece of advice I give my younger friends who have toddlers. Don't put "OK?" at the end of your statements if there is no choice. Some things are non-negotiable.

    Posted by Teri Olsen February 28, 11 04:05 PM
  1. @Geocool, I am a mom, my kids are 27 and 25. I'm all for giving appropriate choices, and AT THE RIGHT TIME asking if it's OK, but when a child is having a meltdown is not the time to say "is it OK"?
    --------------------------------------------------

    I think the suggestion here is not to do it during an actual meltdown -- by the time it gets to that point, choices of any kind and reasoning don't work. The point is to fiddle around with this routine a little bit to find one that works. So, child is *not* having a meltdown at this point, the night's routine is about to happen, and she learns mom will be reading a story. At that point, before she ramps up to meltdown, dad sets up a chair and cheerfully says the above. It can be a choice for her at that point -- have dad there in the door, or not have dad. (I agree though in general, that when there isn't a choice, don't add "ok?" at the end. That drives me crazy too.)

    Posted by jjlen February 28, 11 06:32 PM
  1. The competition can be minimized by telling the child that a new baby will be coming into the home a few months before this happens (if possible).

    After the fact, try this: after supper, Mom holds the baby and Dad holds the 2 year old for 15 minutes. Then Dad and Mom swap kids for another 15 minutes. If parents have to sit in separate rooms, that's OK. A VERY important part of this is to say calmly but firmly, It's your turn to be with Mom and it's Dad's turn to be with Baby. Then you physically get up and make the swap.

    Telling the child what your house rules are in a calm and low tone of voice gets your attitude across, that the parents are in charge of the care of both children. Telling the older child that Daddy will be spending time with each of his kids after supper might help get this pattern started.

    Posted by Irene February 28, 11 06:38 PM
  1. All I can add is I'm sorry you are going through this. I imagine its physically and emotionally draining, and just makes for long stressful days and a constant feeling of uncertainty.
    Stay strong. If you can, find a way to get time alone with your daughter, time alone with your husband, and time alone with the baby once in a while. I'm sure that is a logistical nightmare, but if possible to make happen, some bonding in each of your relationships may help sustain you. (and maybe some time alone too).
    I hope things work out soon.

    Posted by lala February 28, 11 06:58 PM
  1. I agree there are situations that are NON-NEGOTIABLE but this isn't one of those situations. we're simply talking about a story being read by Mom as opposed to Dad. We're not talking some situations, for example, touching a kitchen knife bc that is not safe...THAT is a non-negotiable situation. Or "please get your coat on, we have errands to do,? That is a non-negotiable situation. But a book?? and if daddy sits outside the door or in the room and listens? That IS a negotiable situation. Just saying............ Though it is agreed that you don't ask the child's permission..

    Posted by jd March 1, 11 08:16 AM
  1. I sympathize, when my son was 2.5 he wanted only me and it was hard on both my husband and me. There was no other sibling so this may just be the usual phase but worse because of the new baby.

    We did something similiar w/ story time. I would listen to only the 1st page of the book and then leave the two them alone. by then our son would be all snuggled up and engrossed in the story so he wouldn't even notice. With bath time, also, I would stay in the room for a minute and then leave. in both cases I would tell him before hand what I would do and he usually accepted it no problem.

    In regards to the vomiting after crying...maybe it's just my kid but I have cleaned up plenty of vomit after tantrums so try not to get too upset. We have taught him to take deep breaths and count to five and that really helps to calm him down.

    Posted by simpsonsfan March 1, 11 08:36 AM
  1. Teri, thanks for clarifying. It sounded to me like you were against the idea of giving a choice there. The trick is to make sure that all the choices you give are acceptable ones.

    Posted by geocool March 1, 11 10:12 AM
 
14 comments so far...
  1. My daughter is 2.2 and does all that same crazy stuff. No new baby in our house, just a 5 year old brother. I would file that under 2 year old being a 2 year old. Thoughts: look at her health, is she sick? ear infection? healthy? any issues of her own? hungry? tired? off schedule? under stimulated and needs to be in a school environment that is stimulating or sign up for interesting classes? bored and frustrated from being stuck inside all winter? Give her lots of individual attention - read her books while you're nursing, get on the floor and play with her, etc. , ride out this phase and set limits. Don't take a 2 year olds behavior personally--this too shall pass.

    Posted by rachel weinstein February 28, 11 09:59 AM
  1. Why have Dad ask if it is OK if he sits at the door and listents. Is this a good time/place to give a 2yo a choice? Why not have dad say "I will sit at the door and listen."

    Posted by Teri olsen February 28, 11 11:30 AM
  1. My son was this way when his brother 1st came home too. Some things that really helped. 1. A very special outing without the baby, it wasn't long, but helped to show him he was as important to me. 2. Instead of getting upset when he tried to squished the baby (mostly it was accidental 2 yr olds still are not very aware of body space or effects of their actions. I told him I had 2 hands one for each boy & the hand on the side I was not nursing on was for him, so he would get to snuggle too & watch a show or read a book with me while the baby was nursing. Also letting them "hold" the baby on a pillow on their lap and giving them a job of big helper to mom (my son used to hand me diapers, put non smelly diapers in the diaper pail, and try to wipe the babies bum after it was already cleaned up, I used to put powder on my sister's bottom). And also continue to tell her that you know she is mad at you, but you still love her no matter what.

    Posted by Faye February 28, 11 12:07 PM
  1. Barbara's answer is so awesome....just keep reminding yourself that it's not about you, she doesn't mean what she's saying, and it's your job as a parent to keep her on track (by following Barbara's suggestions).

    Her tantrums will ease up when she learns that they won't help her get her own way.

    Big hugs to you!

    Posted by cause-and-effect February 28, 11 12:24 PM
  1. I can't get over the first paragraph, one of the funniest analogies I've seen and makes the point perfectly.

    Posted by JT February 28, 11 01:35 PM
  1. Just be the grownup and don't feel hurt by this. It's a phase. It will pass.
    You could also try getting some books for your daughter, like "I'm a Big Sister" by Joanna Cole, "The Berenstain Bears' New Baby", etc.

    Teri olsen, you don't sound like a parent to me. At this age I've found that it's often an excellent strategy to let the child pick one of two acceptable choices. It gives her a sense of control.

    Posted by geocool February 28, 11 02:52 PM
  1. I agree with geocool.

    Just put yourself in a 2-year-old's shoes. Absolutely everything in her life is dictated by others, and often those decisions are things she doesn't understand or agree with. "Why are we getting in the car now? Why do I have to wear snow pants? Why are you turning off the TV? etc. etc."

    The biggest change in her life is suddenly having to share Mommy with a new little one who demands Mommy's time round the clock. Giving the 2-year-old some say in her environment can only help her feel like not everything is arbitrary. Her opinion matters, and one way to let her know that is by giving her some choices, albeit in relatively trivial areas.

    I had heard the analogy before about imagining your husband told you he loved you but was bringing home a new wife -- but the version I heard went a step or two further. Imagine he tells you that since the new spouse is so new, she doesn't have to do any chores around the house and, oh yeah, she's going to sleep between the two of you in bed, too. You'd feel insecure, unloved and that the situation was completely unreasonable and unfair. Pretty much what kids feel when a new child enters the picture. Of course, they don't feel that way every minute, but the change rocks the firm foundation they thought they were on.

    So patience, love and understanding are required -- pretty much the same stuff kids need every day anyway. 8-)

    Posted by SandyEE February 28, 11 03:53 PM
  1. @Geocool, I am a mom, my kids are 27 and 25. I'm all for giving appropriate choices, and AT THE RIGHT TIME asking if it's OK, but when a child is having a meltdown is not the time to say "is it OK"?
    I learned with my kids when to say "OK?" questioningly and when NOT to. When I gave two choices, I didn't add "OK?" because that opens the playing field for the child to say no, that's not OK. It's the one piece of advice I give my younger friends who have toddlers. Don't put "OK?" at the end of your statements if there is no choice. Some things are non-negotiable.

    Posted by Teri Olsen February 28, 11 04:05 PM
  1. @Geocool, I am a mom, my kids are 27 and 25. I'm all for giving appropriate choices, and AT THE RIGHT TIME asking if it's OK, but when a child is having a meltdown is not the time to say "is it OK"?
    --------------------------------------------------

    I think the suggestion here is not to do it during an actual meltdown -- by the time it gets to that point, choices of any kind and reasoning don't work. The point is to fiddle around with this routine a little bit to find one that works. So, child is *not* having a meltdown at this point, the night's routine is about to happen, and she learns mom will be reading a story. At that point, before she ramps up to meltdown, dad sets up a chair and cheerfully says the above. It can be a choice for her at that point -- have dad there in the door, or not have dad. (I agree though in general, that when there isn't a choice, don't add "ok?" at the end. That drives me crazy too.)

    Posted by jjlen February 28, 11 06:32 PM
  1. The competition can be minimized by telling the child that a new baby will be coming into the home a few months before this happens (if possible).

    After the fact, try this: after supper, Mom holds the baby and Dad holds the 2 year old for 15 minutes. Then Dad and Mom swap kids for another 15 minutes. If parents have to sit in separate rooms, that's OK. A VERY important part of this is to say calmly but firmly, It's your turn to be with Mom and it's Dad's turn to be with Baby. Then you physically get up and make the swap.

    Telling the child what your house rules are in a calm and low tone of voice gets your attitude across, that the parents are in charge of the care of both children. Telling the older child that Daddy will be spending time with each of his kids after supper might help get this pattern started.

    Posted by Irene February 28, 11 06:38 PM
  1. All I can add is I'm sorry you are going through this. I imagine its physically and emotionally draining, and just makes for long stressful days and a constant feeling of uncertainty.
    Stay strong. If you can, find a way to get time alone with your daughter, time alone with your husband, and time alone with the baby once in a while. I'm sure that is a logistical nightmare, but if possible to make happen, some bonding in each of your relationships may help sustain you. (and maybe some time alone too).
    I hope things work out soon.

    Posted by lala February 28, 11 06:58 PM
  1. I agree there are situations that are NON-NEGOTIABLE but this isn't one of those situations. we're simply talking about a story being read by Mom as opposed to Dad. We're not talking some situations, for example, touching a kitchen knife bc that is not safe...THAT is a non-negotiable situation. Or "please get your coat on, we have errands to do,? That is a non-negotiable situation. But a book?? and if daddy sits outside the door or in the room and listens? That IS a negotiable situation. Just saying............ Though it is agreed that you don't ask the child's permission..

    Posted by jd March 1, 11 08:16 AM
  1. I sympathize, when my son was 2.5 he wanted only me and it was hard on both my husband and me. There was no other sibling so this may just be the usual phase but worse because of the new baby.

    We did something similiar w/ story time. I would listen to only the 1st page of the book and then leave the two them alone. by then our son would be all snuggled up and engrossed in the story so he wouldn't even notice. With bath time, also, I would stay in the room for a minute and then leave. in both cases I would tell him before hand what I would do and he usually accepted it no problem.

    In regards to the vomiting after crying...maybe it's just my kid but I have cleaned up plenty of vomit after tantrums so try not to get too upset. We have taught him to take deep breaths and count to five and that really helps to calm him down.

    Posted by simpsonsfan March 1, 11 08:36 AM
  1. Teri, thanks for clarifying. It sounded to me like you were against the idea of giving a choice there. The trick is to make sure that all the choices you give are acceptable ones.

    Posted by geocool March 1, 11 10:12 AM
add your comment
Required
Required (will not be published)

This blogger might want to review your comment before posting it.

About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

Submit a question for Barbara's Mailbag


Ask Barbara a question

Barbara answers questions on a wide range of topics, including autism, breastfeeding, bullying, discipline, divorce, kindergarten, potty training, sleep, tantrums, and much, much more.

Send your questions to her at:
meltzbarbara (at) gmail.com.
Please include your name and hometown.

Child in Mind

Moms
All parenting discussions
Discussions

High needs/fussy baby

memes98 writes "My 10.5 month old DS has been fussy ever since he was born, but I am getting very frustrated because I thought he would be much better by now...has anyone else been through this?"

More community voices

Child in Mind

Corner Kicks

Dirty Old Boston

Mortal Matters

On Deck

TEDx Beacon Street

RSS feed


click here to subscribe to
Child Caring

archives