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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Toddler must learn to get used to his dad

By John Rosemond

A dad in Florida asks what he might have done to cause his 20-month-old to reject him. Whenever he attempts to do something for his son, the child puts up great physical resistance and screams hysterically for his mother. Dad is clueless and understandably confused.

Actually, Dad is describing behavior that is not at all unusual. It has its roots in the fact that with rare exception, the parent who has been at the child's beck-and-call until this time has been the mother. During infancy and early toddlerhood, even the most well-intentioned father is considerably less involved with his child than is his wife.

A nurse friend of mine tells me that people who are hospitalized for relatively long periods do not like it when a new nurse takes over their care. Some put up resistance when the nurse attempts to do something for them and demand to know why the previous nurse is no longer available.

Likewise, this child has become accustomed to his mother's care. She is a known quantity; his father is not. Under the circumstances, when his father attempts to do something for him, it upsets his sense of security. When confronted with a new caregiver, a hospital patient may become demanding, perhaps a bit sullen. Under the same circumstances, a toddler falls apart. Toddlers are not known for restraint, after all.

I know of no instant cure for this problem. I only know that it is unwise to lead a child of any age to believe that he can control his parents.

The right course is for both parents to, in the words of Ringo Starr (borrowed from the late Buck Owens), "act naturally." If Mom is better positioned to do something for the child, Mom should do it. If Dad is better positioned, then Dad should do it, and he should do it with loving, good-humored determination. If Dad starts something, he should finish it, no matter how hysterical the child becomes. This does not qualify as trauma. It is a bump in the road, but to a toddler, all bumps are apocalyptic.

Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents' questions at www.rosemond.com.