QUESTION: I’m a fairly new dad, and my daughter is now 13 months. I feel like she really dislikes me. She always wants her mom or the nanny and cries almost non-stop whenever I hold her. I don’t feel like we have bonded the way my guy friends have bonded with their little ones. I keep hoping it’s going to change, but it’s been the same now almost since birth. Am I doing something wrong?
BBB: I can imagine how bad it feels when you adore your daughter and she wants nothing to do with you, Dad. Ouch! You are not alone. Plenty of parents (dads) seek guidance because a child prefers one parent over the other. There are even cases where the child prefers the nanny over the mom or dad. It’s hard not to take that behavior personally, but please don’t!
Very young children are busy exploring the extent of their power. They are just discovering that not only do they actually have a choice but also that they have tastes and preferences. This can be the case even with 1-year-olds and younger! And they express it, loud and clear. This discovery is at the root of many unpleasant behaviors, including the joy of saying “No No No!” about you.
Familiarity is another part of preference. You didn’t mention how much time you actually spend with your little one. Is it once a day? A half hour, twice a day? Are you ever alone with her? Is Mommy or Nanny close by as you try to hold her? A child will often gravitate to the familiar, whether it is a storybook she knows well, a song she hears over and over, a particular toy, or even the cup from which she drinks her milk. The familiar brings comfort, and she is a heat-seeking missile.
I feel sure there is nothing that you are doing to cause your daughter’s preference. However, I do have a few suggestions. Make sure that you are spending as much time with her as you can, as frequently as you can. Play with her on the floor; dance to fun music together and use instruments; play peek-a-boo. Make sure you have a few rituals with her, things you always do when you walk in the door and when you return – a high-five and a low-five; two butterfly kisses and a bear hug. Try to be with your daughter when neither the nanny nor your wife is around. In fact, send them away. At first she may cry, but she will settle down. Distracting a year old is easy, especially if you become the fun dad. Even changing venues helps. Go outside and look for squirrels or airplanes.
Make sure you are participating in the care-giving activities – feeding, bathing, diapering, etc. Just because she cries that she wants Mommy doesn’t mean that she gets mommy. Certainly, validate her feelings. “I know you want your mommy right now. Daddy is changing you, and you will see Mommy soon.” And then plow through.
Rest assured the day is not far off when your daughter will come running to you and will slam the door on her mother. That’s what kids do, especially teenagers!
Betsy Brown Braun, bestselling author of the award-winning book Just Tell Me What to Say and You’re Not the Boss of Me is a child development and behavior specialist, parenting expert and multiple birth parenting consultant. She consults with parents privately and runs parenting groups, seminars and workshops for parents, teachers and other professionals. She is a frequent guest on radio and television – including the Today Show, Good Morning America and The Rachael Ray Show – and her parenting expertise has been featured in numerous print publications, websites and blogs. She and Ray Braun, Palisades residents for 38 years, are the parents of adult triplets and have three grandchildren, so far.