By Lorraine Thomas, Parenting Expert
“I love Raff to bits,” said my client, Tom. “The only problem is that he way prefers his mum to me and whatever I try to do instead of her ends in tears and tantrums. Usually mine. I really try not to take it personally but it is hard, especially at the end of a long day at the office.”
Tom’s challenge is a very common one. It is totally normal for most toddlers to go through a phase when they only want mum and no-one else will do. Many dads struggle to get a look in. It also means that mum is on call 24/7. It’s a phase that will pass but in the meantime here are some tips to help dad share the limelight – and just as importantly - give mum a break.
Reasons Your Toddler Wants Only Mum
Mum is probably the person your toddler spends most time with, so it’s natural that they will have a close bond with her. They love regular routines and structure. It helps them feel secure. So when you say, “Dad will give you a bath tonight,” it can send them into a spin. It takes your toddler time to get used to any idea that is different from what normally happens.
They’re not rejecting dad, just saying “I like it the way we usually do it.”
Your little one may also be taking the opportunity to demonstrate their independence and show you that they want to make choices of their own. Toddlers also like to have their favourites (toy, book, drink) and at this particular time, the same is true of parents.
What To Do
So the way to help your toddler get over this, is to give dad regular things to do. They’ll become part of the regular routine.
Talk together and identify some practical activities that can be dad’s responsibility. Avoid giving your toddler a choice by saying, “Would you like dad to read to you tonight?” and give a clear, confident direction, “Dad is going to read to you tonight” or “It’s dad’s turn to bath you tonight”. Don’t make a big thing about it. Be very matter of fact. Take it in your stride and they will learn to too.
Your toddler needs to know this is non-negotiable and is going to happen. It’s usually much easier for everyone if mum is out of sight and not an option. So this is a great opportunity for her to have vital ‘me’ time.
Leave dad and toddler alone for regular, short periods of time.
Just half an hour will make a difference. It’s a good chance for them to bond and give mum a bit of a break. There may be tears when your toddler realises that they aren’t going to get their own way, but dig deep and persevere. Mum and dad can support each other and deal with it consistently. It may help to think A … B … C ….
Acknowledge how you are feeling and accept it.
Breathe deeply and count up to 10.
Choose how you are going to respond.
Resist the temptation to step in right away and react to your toddler’s demands. If your toddler senses you are weakening they will carry on making a fuss until they get what they want. If they know you mean business, they will begin to get used to the idea … and before long be looking forward to dad doing things with them.
It’s very important to be consistent. Sometimes mum and dad may give in because they are tired and aren’t feeling strong enough to deal with the tantrum. This may work in the short-term, but in the longer term you are making life more difficult for yourselves.
So try to support each other and stick to the party line. In addition to involving dad in some of the family routines at home, identify some fun activities your toddler loves that are going to be dad’s responsibility. If your toddler loves swimming, for example, and that could be something they do in their special one-to-one time.
Also start something new that is special because dad and your toddler do it. Before long, something like going to the soft play park together on a Saturday morning or jumping over puddles together will become a family tradition.
It’s Not Only Dad Who Doesn’t Get A Look In
If only mum will do, it’s not only dad who gets rejected. Your toddler will try the same tactic on trusted friends and relatives. There are lots of good reasons for getting your toddler used to doing things with other adults not just mum and dad. It’s good for the development of your little one’s confidence and their social and communication skills. It gives parents a break. And it means friends and family can really feel involved in your toddler’s life.
Leave him with friends and family for short, regular amounts of time and he will soon get used to being with them and they can enjoy each other’s company. Take your toddler to places where they will come into contact with different adults that they trust so that they get used to the idea of being around different grown ups. Distract your toddler when they cling. Diverting their attention to a fun activity may be enough to take their mind off clinging to you.
How To Respond When You Get Rejected
If you’re being rejected, it’s hard not to take it personally. It’s particularly tough if your little one screams, “Mummy do it” in front of an audience. Try not to take it personally. This isn’t about you and your parenting skills. It has nothing to do with one of you being a better parent. If you are on the end of your toddler’s rejection, don’t make negative, personal remarks such as, “You are really upsetting me,” or “Don’t say that it upsets me,” because they are choosing mum over you. Act your age – not your toddler’s.
This is a normal phrase children go through. If you get upset, your toddler will cling to you even more. Be positive. Give your toddler lots of praise when you are doing things together. Tell them what you love about being their dad and spending time with them. Remember your confidence may have taken a knock, but it is tough for mum too. If your toddler doesn’t want anybody else to do anything, it puts her under pressure. You’re a team and together you are stronger. Talk to each other about what is happening. Build on what is working and try something different if it isn’t.
Lorraine Thomas is on the Toddle About Panel of Experts. She is the Chief Executive of The Parent Coaching Academy and author of ‘Brilliantly Behaved Toddler’. She runs workshops for working parents with clients including Marks & Spencer, Morgan Stanley, Novartis and Barclays. She is used as a parenting expert by Tesco.