Toddler doesn't want daddy

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  August 29, 2011 06:00 AM

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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

Dear MaevesMom,

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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2 comments so far...
  1. My daughter did the same, exact, thing to me when she was about this age. Wanted nothing to do with me - her mother - preferring her father instead. If she hurt herself, she'd run right by my open arms, crying for Daddy and actually seek him out if he wasn't immediately available!

    She still, at almost 3.5 now, does this to a degree. She prefers Daddy Time to Mommy Time a lot, but that's OK. Really. She lashes out at me more, but again, it's OK within the context that you're asking. She does ask for me now. It's not like it had been.

    It hurt at first, but honestly, I realized after a while that she's not _trying_ to be mean or exclusionary. She's just...exploring her world and Daddy's where it's at.

    I don't know that you need to "force" Daddy Time on your kid as suggested here though. Our daughter really did outgrow this on her own, fairly quickly in the end (though it felt like an eternity).

    Posted by Phe August 29, 11 09:21 AM
  1. I agree with Phe as well. The more you try to "push" the Daddy time the more she wants you. My daughter does the same exact thing with me now. I have to pour her cereal or milk. If Daddy tries to give her something-anything she wants me to give it to her. It is rather annoying actually!!! LOL...sweet in a way that she loves her mommy, but it can be too much at times. It is a phase and I realize that the day will come when she wants nothing to do with me and wants everything to do with Daddy...or actually neither one of us!!!!

    Posted by JD August 30, 11 06:21 AM
 
2 comments so far...
  1. My daughter did the same, exact, thing to me when she was about this age. Wanted nothing to do with me - her mother - preferring her father instead. If she hurt herself, she'd run right by my open arms, crying for Daddy and actually seek him out if he wasn't immediately available!

    She still, at almost 3.5 now, does this to a degree. She prefers Daddy Time to Mommy Time a lot, but that's OK. Really. She lashes out at me more, but again, it's OK within the context that you're asking. She does ask for me now. It's not like it had been.

    It hurt at first, but honestly, I realized after a while that she's not _trying_ to be mean or exclusionary. She's just...exploring her world and Daddy's where it's at.

    I don't know that you need to "force" Daddy Time on your kid as suggested here though. Our daughter really did outgrow this on her own, fairly quickly in the end (though it felt like an eternity).

    Posted by Phe August 29, 11 09:21 AM
  1. I agree with Phe as well. The more you try to "push" the Daddy time the more she wants you. My daughter does the same exact thing with me now. I have to pour her cereal or milk. If Daddy tries to give her something-anything she wants me to give it to her. It is rather annoying actually!!! LOL...sweet in a way that she loves her mommy, but it can be too much at times. It is a phase and I realize that the day will come when she wants nothing to do with me and wants everything to do with Daddy...or actually neither one of us!!!!

    Posted by JD August 30, 11 06:21 AM
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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.

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