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Son Hasn't Bonded with His Dad

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

Q: My husband and I have problems, but our son is only two and doesn't understand this yet. He also isn't close to his dad. Does my dislike for my husband have something to do with this? My husband told me it was my fault that my son won't be affectionate. We are in counseling now for our marital issues, hoping our son will not be affected by them. My husband does not spend very much quality time with our son and I tend to be his primary caregiver. Is it my fault they haven't bonded?

A: I think that the bond that you have created with your son by spending so much time with him is the cause of his wanting to be with you rather than his dad. You mention that your husband does not spend much time with your boy; even a two-year-old senses who is happy to be with him. As a matter of normal early child development, it's very typical for a toddler to exhibit a preference for one parent, even when both parents spend equal amounts of time engaging their child. It's also normal for a young child's strong preference for one parent may abruptly shift to the other parent for no apparent reason. However, given your marital problems, I'm not surprised that your husband might be accusing you of being the cause of your son's lack of affection for him.

Although a two-year-old is not developmentally sophisticated enough to understand that his parents are having serious problems in their relationship, he can certainly internalize the tension, anger, and arguments that occur between you. A tense family environment can contribute to a child's becoming anxious, fearful, and clingy. Please ask for help in your counseling sessions regarding parenting your son. He doesn't deserve to be caught between your current unhappiness with each other. I hope that you know that your "prize" is your little boy. Keep your eyes on the prize as you both make an all-out effort to heal your family.

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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.

Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of FamilyEducation.com should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.


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