Dear Mr. Dad: My husband and I have a 2-year old daughter and we’ve both been very involved in raising her. But recently, she’s started pushing him away and demanding that I do everything. She won’t let him read her bedtime stories, take her to the park, feed her, get her dressed, or anything else—all things that he’s always done and, until a few weeks ago, she had no complaints about. This is quite frustrating for two reasons. First, I see how much it hurts my husband and I can’t seem to help him. Second, our daughter’s constant demands mean I don’t get any down time. Why is she acting this way, and what can we do to help our daughter and ourselves get through this annoying phase?
A: Just about every parent goes through this at some point—usually with a child around your daughter’s age. But just because it’s common doesn’t make it any less painful for the parent who’s on the outs (or exhausting for the parent who can do no wrong). The good news is that your daughter will almost surely grow out of this phase. In the meantime, though, it’s great that you’re concerned about your husband and what he’s feeling. Your biggest task is going to be to keep him from giving in to the very real temptation to back away, to remove himself from situations where his daughter is likely to reject him.
The short answer to your question about why your daughter is behaving this way is that it’s because she can. At two, she’s still pretty convinced that she’s the center of the Universe and enjoys throwing her weight around. I’m betting that in addition to pushing Daddy away and demanding that you do everything, she’s also pushing away certain foods or books or clothes and demanding others. Pretty soon, though, she’ll start confronting the harsh reality that she actually has very little control over what happens in her life.
In the meantime, there are a few things you can do to ease your husband’s (and your own) pain. First, with your husband there, talk to your daughter about feelings. Toddlers instinctively want to help others and they’re very aware that certain things can make them feel happy or sad. But do this in small doses. It’s okay to tell your daughter that Daddy is feeling sad and needs a hug. It’s not okay to tell her that she’s a bad person.
Next, try to increase the number of activities you do together, and be sure your daughter notices that Daddy’s there too. Make up a reason to leave the room for a few minutes, leaving Dad and daughter together.
Whenever he’s not around, talk about him. Tell your daughter that you miss him and that you’re excited about seeing him later. If a problem comes up, say you need to get something from a high shelf or something needs to be fixed, tell her that Daddy is really good at those things. Your goal is to get your daughter to see her dad as someone who can help her get what she wants and to encourage her to look forward to being with him.
Fortunately (or, unfortunately, depending on how you look at it), the tide will eventually turn and your daughter will glue herself to her dad and push you away. So keep this column handy and give it to your husband when it’s his turn to be the golden one.
Originally Published on Mr. Dad
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