By Stephanie Agnew, Assistant Director, Parents Place on the Peninsula
Toddlers and preschoolers are all about power and control. They like to think that they are in charge of their lives and can control their parents. Most young children go through stages when they have a preference for one parent or the other, and it often switches back and forth. This can be very disheartening, especially for a full-time working parent who has limited time to spend with his or her child and desperately wants to share in the caregiving role.
Here are a four tips to help you make it through these time periods with your self—confidence and sanity intact.
Don’t Take it Personally
Even though children can say mean things or act out in negative ways, this is not really about you as a person or a parent. They usually just want to exercise their power and express their immediate feelings. If you act hurt, you give your child too much power, which actually will make him feel insecure, even if it seems to make him happy in the moment. Rather than saying, ”That hurts my feelings!” when your child rejects your offer to read a story, try saying, “I know you love it when Mommy/Daddy reads to you, but I love to read to you too, so tonight is my turn, and Mommy/Daddy will read to you tomorrow”.
Don’t Give Up
Often parents become so frustrated when their child rejects them continuously, they give up and withdraw from the child even more. This will only reinforce the idea that you aren’t really interested in being there for your child or don’t have the confidence to able to care for her appropriately.
Support Each Other
As partners in the parenting process it is important you show your child that you have complete confidence in your partner’s ability to meet your child’s needs. Both parents should have time alone with their children. You need to communicate well with each other about basic daily routines around meals and sleep and be committed to doing your best to be consistent. That said, it is also fine for there to be some minor differences between parents. Children learn to be flexible as they come to appreciate how their parents can be different in some things. When you are together, try not to give in to a child’s protest to have one parent over another doing things with or for them. Just say: “Mommy/Daddy is perfectly capable of buckling your car seat, and I am right here with you, too!”
Make a Plan
If you are having consistent struggles with your child accepting one parent’s involvement, set up a schedule that is predictable. For example: Monday, Wednesday and Friday are one parent’s nights to do bedtime, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday are the other parent’s nights to do bedtime, and on Sunday the child gets to choose. This establishes both parents as having equal interest and ability to handle bedtime and also gives the child a little control that is appropriate. Children are much less likely to argue with a schedule than a person and will soon realize that both parents can help them fall asleep. Another suggestion is to split the bedtime routine, for example, one parent gives a bath and the other parent reads bedtime stories, and they alternate on a consistent basis. The important thing is that you need to be willing to stick with the commitment to participate, or the child will not be able to depend upon you. Using an actual calendar with visual cues as to who does which jobs on which days can also help a child who is more persistent about her preference. Then you can refer her to the calendar to answer the question herself about which parent is handling bedtime on a particular night.
Ultimately it is best for your child to know that he has two parents who love him and are there for him in all the most important ways. Even though he may protest periodically, if you persevere with confidence and love you and he will experience all the benefits of close relationships together.
Stephanie Agnew coordinates all parent workshops at our Parents Place San Mateo location, where she also teaches classes on preschool, kindergarten, and elementary school choices; positive discipline; and behavior management for young children. She also leads teacher training workshops, consults with families on many parenting and child development issues, and observes children in their homes and at their schools. An expert in early childhood education, Stephanie taught in Palo Alto area preschools for 20 years and owned a preschool for 5 years. She received additional professional training at the Bing Nursery School at Stanford University, where she earned her bachelor’s degree.