Expert Advice

Child Prefers Mom over Dad

Toddler and Teenager Expert Advice from Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW

Q
Our two year old wants nothing to do with his father. Whenever my husband tries to dress, bathe, or satisfy any of our son's needs, our son cries for "Mommy." Not only is my husband frustrated and hurt, but I feel guilty, too. What should we do to help this situation?
A
First of all, realize that your son's preference at this age for only one parent to satisfy his needs is perfectly normal. I can understand your sense of guilt as well as your husband's feelings of frustration and hurt. It's hard for your husband not to take your son's "Mommy preferences" personally but this behavior truly is not about rejecting him. It's about the normal preschooler's stages of development where he wants only Mommy to attend to his needs or wants. In time, you may well experience a complete shift in your son's preferences, where he will insist that only Daddy reads him his bedtime story, bathes him, dresses him, etc. It's more normal than not that kids shift back and forth like this during the first several years of childhood. Often kids will want only one parent to do a certain thing (e.g. putting him to bed) while insisting that the other parent fulfill a different need (making his breakfast).

It's important for you and your husband not to display any disappointment, frustration or negative responses when your son chooses you to help him. But rather than leaving the bathroom or bedroom when these activities are taking place, I'd suggest that your husband occasionally see what would happen if he merely remained in the room. On occasion, you might also ask your son (in a neutral tone) whether he'd like Daddy to help.

I'd also recommend that your husband begin an activity by himself (drawing with crayons, playing with a toy truck) and then ask your son if he'd like to join him. Being physically affectionate with his son is another way to keep their connection strong. Don't get hung up on the activities that he insists upon doing with you. Look for as many ways to do anything as a threesome and let your husband know that this is a phase and that he will get his fair share of time with his son as he continues to grow and develop.

Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.

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