I have a twenty-six month old little girl who is ordinarily very happy and content. She is with my mom during the day and is our first child. Recently, whenever I am around, she will have NOTHING to do with her dad. He tries so hard to interact with her but she wont even let him get her something to drink- everything is "no dadda" followed usually by a hit. She is this way whenever I am around with others (other grandmother and my mom who is her primary caretaker during the day.) However, she is most physical with her father. Is this typical behavior of a child who just wants to spend as much time as possible with her mom? We both work full-time so needless to say, when we are home at night and on the weekends, I would like the interaction to be less stressful for all involved.
From: MaevesMom, Hyde Park, MA
It is very typical for a toddler to go through a phase where she/he prefers one parent over the other. Although it may feel as if the child is playing favorites, there's often a subtext worth considering: That at some level, she's asking, "If I'm not paying attention to you right now, if I'm not nice or dismissive or downright mean to you, will you still be there for me?" More concretely, a toddler's preference for one parent is almost always a way to assert independence, exert control over the world, and maintain predictability, all at the same time.
The simplest way to deal with it is to establish routines. On the night that it's dad's turn to put her to bed, if she cries for you, go into the room, tell her, "Tonight is daddy's turn; tomorrow night, will be my turn." Furthermore, you could give her a choice, which hopefully will diminish her need for control: "Do you want mama to leave the room while you sit on daddy's lap and he reads to you, or do you want mommy to sit on the floor and listen to the story, too?" If she climbs in your lap instead, say simply, "No no. It's daddy's turn tonight. I'm just listening, remember?" Stay firm and calm.
About the hitting, I'm wondering if she resorts to hitting in other situations as well? Toddlers do this when they are frustrated because they lack the language they need. When possible, anticipate when she might hit and give her the words for what you suspect she's feeling: "You're angry, aren't you? You wish mommy could give you the drink, don't you?" Also: when you see her winding up to hit, stop her arm in mid-air and tell her, "No hitting." OR: when she hits, literally turn your back on her, remove yourself from the scene (stand up or walk away) and say, "I can't be with you when you hit." If both parents do this consistently, she'll get the message quicker than you might expect.
This is tricky, I know, because there are two behaviors going on at the same time, not wanting daddy and her hitting. Because she's getting attention for both of them, it's hard to separate them, so deal with one at a time.
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