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Toddler Tips

Balancing Attachment

From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 18 No. 6, November-December 2001, p. 220

"Toddler Tips" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help parents of toddlers. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's lifestyle. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.

Situation

Our only child, a girl of 31 months, is extremely attached to me and she frequently rejects her father. She tells him she does not love him, and she won't allow him to hold her, read stories to her, or play with her much of the time (especially when she's tired). She is still nursing, and has always slept with us in our bed. There are some times lately that I have felt things could be improving, although for every one step forward there is at least half a step backwards. It is very hurtful to my husband and very stressful for me. I have observed them together, and I think my husband is very loving and attentive to her. She is far more receptive to other people, including her friends' fathers whom she has met just moments before, which makes me think that she feels threatened by the relationship I have with my husband. I wonder if our situation is unique to us for some reason and I would like some ideas to encourage my daughter to enjoy time with her daddy.

Response

We tried a few things with our son (first child) who also rejected his father in the way as you describe. One thing was to show him that we, his parents, agree that such behavior is upsetting to us and that we will support one another when this happens. For example, I might say, "Daddy is upset because you say you don't love him and I'm upset because I love your daddy. I don't like to see him upset and I don't like to see you treating him this way."

Another was to insist that, even if he didn't love his father, our son still had to show respect and talk politely to his father. Again, we found it important to let him know that we were in agreement with one another on this matter. The thing that really turned things around for us, though, was when my husband decided to ask Benjamin outright why he didn't love him and want to play with him. The answer was enlightening! My son said, "Because you go to work and you're not here to play with me like Mummy is."

This gave us the opportunity to talk about what was really bothering him. It also prompted us to schedule fixed and definite times for Benjamin to be with his dad without me. Either they left the house, or I did! As things improved, I could be in another room, or just somewhere in the background. My husband planned games/activities to do with Benjamin that I don't do with him. I would also help Benjamin plan what he could do with his dad when he came home from work. Setting up an arrangement like this would also give you a bit of free time for yourself. Think how you could pamper yourself, relax, or get things done if you had some time on your own each day.

Louise Fox
Moshav Aderet Israel

Response

Your daughter is not alone in doing this. My four-year-old still "rejects" her dad at times, and rejects me at other times. When this happens, the currently "loved" parent talks to her about being able to love more than one person at a time. I think sometimes little children feel that to love one person means that they cannot love another. We let our children know that we can love many people at once, and hope that the current phase will end.

Kate Hallberg
Boulder CO USA

Response

My partner and I have had similar experiences with our 29-month-old twins. It seems to stem from the fact that I spend much more time alone with them. We've made a real effort to offset that by having my partner spend time alone with them by arranging flex time to take them one afternoon a week, and that has helped a lot. We've also found it helpful to remind ourselves that the outright rejection is part of their age-appropriate development. As with all of their limit-testing behaviors, it helps a lot when we keep our reactions low-key.

Melanie Boyd
Ypsilanti MI USA

Response

In the past seven years of motherhood I've noticed that good things happen when daddy feels loved! Sometimes dad can feel left out of the "love-fest" of breastfeeding. If your little one doesn't share hugs or kisses with dad, don't force her to do so. Just try giving family hugs or family kisses. Everyone piles on dad and the result is usually giggles!

Sometimes just putting words in your toddler's mouth at the right moment can have great results. Say things like, "Dad, you're the best!" or "Oh, we love our daddy." Your toddler may not think to pour on the praise until he hears your words and sees what the response can be. Just saying these words may help make them become true.

Lisa Cortez Barry
Gardena CA USA

Response

My son was this way when he was little and I remember having these same concerns. Now he is "Daddy's Boy" and they have a great relationship. I would encourage you and your husband to read books about what to expect at different ages so you will feel better about your child's feelings at this young age.

Find things for all of you to do together instead of pushing your daughter away from you to daddy. Say great things about daddy (although my husband cautions not to build him up to something he can't live up to). Make things for daddy together, color pictures, or make Dad's favorite cake together. My husband loves to wrestle with the kids (something I don't do!) and that is their special thing. Also, we have a family ritual called "Big Lovin" when everyone hugs each other with kids squished and kissed in the middle.

Kim Pierson
Van Buren AR USA

Last updated Tuesday, October 17, 2006 by njb.
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