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One-Year-Old Prefers Dad
Q: My one-year-old daughter doesn't want me near her. She constantly pushes me away in order to be with her father. I thought kids were supposed to cling to mothers, not fathers. What am I doing wrong?
She just started day care. I drop her off in the mornings and my husband picks her up later in the day. Could she be resentful because of this?
A: Your little girl's life changed dramatically when she started day care. I am inferring that you and your husband both go of to work in the morning, with you being the one to drop her off at day care. Has she had separation problems when you leave her each morning? Talk to her caretakers and discuss her behaviors after you leave and throughout the day. They might be a very good source of knowledge and help you figure out why she is pulling away from you. Right now, she associates you with leaving her in a place where she doesn't see either parent for an entire day. She associates your husband with being the person who comes to day care, hugs her, and takes her home. I wouldn't be surprised if this plays a role in how she behaves toward each of you at the end of the day.
It's not unusual for babies and toddlers to have strong preferences for playing with one parent. Their preference usually has nothing to do with how each parent treats them. And then, usually quite abruptly, the child begins to express a strong preference for the other parent, shunning her former "favorite" -- there's no apparent reason for this. There's no rule that small kids are supposed to cling to Mom more than Dad.
I would recommend, if possible, that you alternate the drop-off and pick-up routine at day care, with you having as much of an opportunity to be the one who picks up your daughter as your husband. It's probably less practical for you to do this (since I'm sure that your husband picks her up rather than you because it's more practical for him to do so) but if you can at all manage it, give it a try. I would also like to see you and your husband play more together with your daughter. It might also make a difference if your husband showed you more physical affection in front of your daughter (although she may respond with some jealousy) and hugged you both at the same time. The both of you should share her bedtime rituals. I guarantee you that her current behavior toward you will pass -- don't take it personally. Do not show her that you are sad or angry with her when she turns away from you because you could be unwittingly be training her to do the same thing next time.
Lastly, you might want to look at how your husband relates to your daughter, seeing if there are particular things that he does that seem to make her happy. If he does anything that she particularly responds to, imitate him when you are with her and see how she reacts.
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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.