Toddler rude to papa
February 11, 2014 11:48 AM   Subscribe

Three months ago we produced a new baby (yay us!). Toddler Nom (not quite three years old) has adapted as well as one might expect. But now she acts like she doesn't like her papa anymore. How do we react?

Toddler Nom has firmly placed Baby in her kingdom of things and people to boss about. She actively participates in nappy changing, vitamin dispensing and general Guessing Why Baby Is Crying. I think it's going really well.

I also make sure she has Special Time with Mama every day: We take a bath together and we have the going to bed ritual. On weekends, my husband will sometimes take Toddler Nom out to the playground so that I have time to sleep in with the baby. Sometimes he also watches kids TV with her.

However, she has started being really cool towards her papa. During the day she asks where he is. As soon as he comes home she yells "Noooooo." And from then on it's "no, go away." "No, you don't play with me." And what drives my husband nuts: "Go away from here!" and she tries to push him. I usually tell her to stop being rude but it doesn't help. My husband is a little bit hurt, I think. He digs his heels in and refuses to move. I should add that she's not always like this. They also have sweet interactions at least once a day. But the difference to how she acts towards me is striking.

In general he kills her with love (and he's a total sap, heh.) But yesterday he blew a fuse and told her that if she was so naughty she would have to go to her room. As we have never done time out before (I don't believe in them) she was quite upset about it.

In general, what works for chastizing Toddler Nom is "If you do X again, Y will happen." Then she makes a choice and in general accepts if the promised punishment follows.

How should we proceed from here? Mostly, I am asking what I can do, as my husband has not asked for help and I am leery of being all "you are doing it WRONG". But I could make some gentle suggestions.
posted by Omnomnom to Human Relations (34 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm sorry you are going through this. I'm a mom. I think what is going on is that your toddler thinks that Daddy = time away from Mommy. (I am assuming you are a mom and not dad. Please substitute as needed.) So she is taking it out on Daddy because she can't express that she wants more time with you. Her whole world has changed. There's been a storm. She can't right the boat. So another boat comes up (Daddy) to help and she assumes that its wake is what was behind the storm. Would it be possible to get a break during the day at all? I'm not sure if you are at home during the day or if you have childcare. If you are at home, could you perhaps have a friend or sitter come so that you could do something special during the day? Or maybe when baby naps? (I was terrible at this and so often wanted downtime when the baby was sleeping. I wish I had had more energy.) If you have childcare, could you sneak back for lunch together? Is there anything you can do to have some more one on one time with her?

I have been a parent a long while and it has taken quite a lot of time to realize that kids don't always lash out in a way that makes sense for us as adults. So she may be upset with Daddy when she is really missing you.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 11:57 AM on February 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

your husband is doing it RIGHT.
posted by bruce at 11:58 AM on February 11, 2014 [17 favorites]

It is possible that she has learned that Time With Dad means Time Not With Mom. It is also possible she can sense that you think he's doing it wrong even if it has not been spelled out in so many words.
posted by steinwald at 11:58 AM on February 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

Reassure your husband that she's just being a toddler. It's not that she doesn't love him, she's likely reacting to something else. Figuring out what that 'something else' is will be tricky.

Pushing is not ok. Tell her "sweetie, in this house we do not push each other. We use our words. If you push, you need a time out."
posted by St. Peepsburg at 11:59 AM on February 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

Kids do weird stuff. Toddlers do even weirder stuff, because they're stuck in this place where they can see that their actions do have consequences, but not necessarily the long-term or secondary consequences. Keep correcting her, and it'll pass, and she'll go back to thinking he's the bestest daddy ever.
posted by Etrigan at 12:01 PM on February 11, 2014

This is a common phase for toddlers. Her brain is growing and developing.

I would be cautious about punishing her for expressing a preference (like that she doesn't want to hang out with daddy or play with daddy), but she does need to learn that she doesn't get to push people to get them to do what she wants, and that she doesn't get to determine who mommy spends time with.
posted by muddgirl at 12:06 PM on February 11, 2014 [21 favorites]

"Ouch, honey. When you tell me to go away and push me, that HURTS. Why are you telling me to go away?"

You could even do this from your perspective. "When you tell papa to go away and push him, his feelings get hurt and mine do, too. Why are you telling papa that?"

Then you could say, "If you don't want to play with papa, okay. You can say, "Papa, I am busy. Can we play later?" You may not push him or say no like that, though." Have her practice saying it kindly until she gets how and when to say it. Model it for her with a toy or stuffed animal so she can see the context.

Three year olds are old enough to understand that their actions and words have an impact on others. You don't have to go full on guilt trip, but you can call her out gently on her behavior and let her know that it's not going to fly. I used to do this to my dad and I know it broke his heart. I'm 26 now and he's still wounded about it (which is his deal, but that's beside the point).
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 12:08 PM on February 11, 2014 [8 favorites]

Yep, explicitly say to her that it hurts his feelings when she does that. Ask her how she'd feel if she came up to daddy and wanted a hug and he said "no, I don't like you". Also remember that she's three, and none of this is permanent.
posted by kavasa at 12:26 PM on February 11, 2014

Response by poster: Yeah it's hard to convey her tone. But as soon as he steps through the door, his mere presence offends her. NOOOOOOOOOOO DON'T YOU DARE COME CLOSER!
Like, he's not even allowed to say hello!

I don't think he's doing it wrong, but I think making suggestions might come across as criticism, especially since he's understandably sensitive about the whole thing.

I think Chausette is on to something about the reason behind it. I'll have to think about how to carve out more time for Nom. It feels like I barely have enough time to go the toilet or eat, as it is (we are moving house at the same time.)
posted by Omnomnom at 12:29 PM on February 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think moving house deserves more than a parenthetical! That is an enormous amount of change for even the most resilient small person. It's hard to know why, exactly, she's expressing her feelings that way, but more time with mom, if possible, sounds right, and your husband also sounds like he's doing it right. I can't think of anything else he should be doing better, except for possibly restating the "use your words" and gently resisting her attempts at controlling his piece of her little world, which must seem extremely out of control right now. Firm but gentle boundary maintenance will help her feel safer, rather than less safe - she needs as much predictability and order as you can provide.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 12:33 PM on February 11, 2014 [7 favorites]

Dad is another person competing for your attention along, add a baby into the mix and this is Little Toddler Noms way of saying she wants more of your attention. Not that I think you need to give it to her or feel guilty she has to learn to share you now, that is just how she sees it. I think a time out for pushing is entirely justified because learning that shoving gets you your way is not a great idea with a baby around. I would get a routine that works and stick to it come hell or high water and give her a little while to feel more secure.

Honestly Dads best bet is to just go OK when she first starts showing signs of not wanting him around and ignore her before she gets to the pushing and shoving stage and go do something else, maybe spend some time with the baby or go do something interesting that in a self contained way without the Toddler (which if you make it interesting enough may or may not actually attract Toddler Nom to come over and join him). Trying to force his attention or affection on her now is only going to make them both more stressed when none of this is personal and in a couple of weeks time he'll most likely be flavour of the month and you'll be the "shunned" one.
posted by wwax at 12:37 PM on February 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

Maybe as soon as he comes home he can take the baby so that him coming in means that Nom gets mommy time.

Then when he takes Nom for a while, he can say, "It's special daddy-Nom time!" "NO! I DON'T WANT THAT!" "Well, sweetie, it's okay if you want to be mad about it, but I'm definitely looking forward to spending time with you."

This is 0% about your husband and 100% about toddlerhood. Our strategy has always been to acknowledge the child doesn't like it and it's okay if she's pissed, but that the parent is totally looking forward to spending time with the child, and that these logistics of parenting are not really negotiable. (And that pushing is not okay.)

(My husband is like yours in that it secretly hurts his feelings even though he knows it's just a phase. Me, I'm like, "Nobody wants to spend time with mommy? WOOOOOO! I'm going to the spa!")
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:38 PM on February 11, 2014 [23 favorites]

Kids are weird at this age, but there certainly is nothing wrong with saying, "Be respectful and talk in a kind voice to your papa, he loves you very much! You cannot push!" and having consequences to back it up. I'm not going to comment on the time outs because it sounds like that's not your jam but I think part of the reason there are punishments like that are so that kids understand there are upsetting consequences to being unkind. I guess it just seems like if your discussions about yelling at her dad and/or pushing him aren't working, is there a reason you are opposed to a more definitive punishment?
posted by takoukla at 12:45 PM on February 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

It could be the time away from Mom point, or it might not be. How long has it been? I think he's pretty much doing it right, though I think he could work on taking this in more stride. I would guess that it's a passing phase. My younger one -- about the same age -- went through a similar phase with me. I would just laugh and say "OK! I'll give the rest of my kisses to your brother!" or make some other joke. (I'd still make sure I gave her hug and a kiss on the head -- she wouldn't get away with it that easily!) Sometimes that was fine; other times she clearly wanted the affection -- just that I needed to work for it, like chase her around, or dramatically pretend I was crying, or make up a song about her. But now, as she's become more articulate and expressive, the attitude has pretty much gone away (other than when she really, really just wants mommy).
posted by odin53 at 12:46 PM on February 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think she is realllllly clear that she may not ever mess with baby. And she probably knows it's not a good idea to mess with mama. She is smart and perceptive enough to know that papa is a softy. And so, therein lies her victim during this new war she is waging for attention.

I myself would offer a tiny sad face, a shrug and a "OK, let me know when you are in the mood, because I am always in the mood for you, even when you are grumpy." And then I'd ride it out. It's temporary.
posted by thinkpiece at 12:55 PM on February 11, 2014 [11 favorites]

Response by poster: I guess it just seems like if your discussions about yelling at her dad and/or pushing him aren't working, is there a reason you are opposed to a more definitive punishment?

I think that if he's going to do time outs then it needs to be more than unceremoniously dumping the kid in her room and closing the door in a fit of anger (as he did. I understand but I'd rather it didn't happen that way more often.) I guess I think they can be done properly, but most often aren't and then just come across as "we don't want you anymore". So anyway, whatever works. I'm willing to try things out.
posted by Omnomnom at 12:57 PM on February 11, 2014

Response by poster: how long has it been?

Three months, about as long as the baby.

And thinkpiece is right, she's oddly hesitant about asking me to put the baby aside, even though I've let her know it's okay to ask.
posted by Omnomnom at 1:00 PM on February 11, 2014

I wouldn't want to punish for that... Seeing a sad reaction to her words might work (Daddy's crying now), but so might you and he playing a game together, at her level. Curiosity killed the cat, and if the rest of the family's doing something fun she's going to want in on it.
posted by Leon at 1:02 PM on February 11, 2014

I agree, this is not a punishable offense. Deliver an uncharged response, turn away (a little shunning is always effective), and getting nice and busy with something she will want in on.
posted by thinkpiece at 1:04 PM on February 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

My 2 1/2 year-old is in a very similar phase, with no external factors like a new sibling, moving, etc. I would caution you on the "sad Daddy" tactic - we tried this one day when she was being particularly awful to him and what happened was that she became terrified and upset to see her Daddy looking sad and pretending to cry, and that we felt TERRIBLE. Plus, you know, it didn't work at all....I'm banking on "this is a phase", although a particularly exasperating one.
posted by chocotaco at 1:09 PM on February 11, 2014 [4 favorites]

thinkpiece: Deliver an uncharged response, turn away (a little shunning is always effective), and getting nice and busy with something she will want in on.

Yeah, I wonder if she doesn't enjoy the negative attention she is getting from this routine. I'd have Dad ignore all of her negative behavior 100% and as soon as he gets home (as quickly as feasible) get involved in some game or activity Toddler really likes. and welcome her to it if she shows interest.
posted by Rock Steady at 1:19 PM on February 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

We have a 4-year old who flip flops between mama and papa on a schedule. This month, he is high on papa and voices indignation when mama enters the room and pushes mama away when she tries to help him on a chair. Last month it was the opposite. This has been going on since he stopped nursing at 11 months.

We found that it's best to ignore it and not take it personally. It will go away. Everyone from friends to pediatrician to daycare lady told us it's perfectly normal and everyone goes through the same thing.

What really helps in the moment: if his screaming or pushing gets aggressive, the favorite parent looks utterly un-amused and tells him to stop and goes to lovingly hug the other parent - this makes the "leper" parent feel a lot less rejected and the little one gets a lesson about the united parental unit. Also, as far as pushing away - personally, I want my son to know that he has the right to reject unwelcome touch, even if it comes from his mother (think about the larger implications, especially for girls). So when he pushes away, I accept it and try my best to not look rejected or upset.

Lastly, when they are that little, you can buy their affection with toys and games. If daddy is the only one who will twirl her for example, she will come to him soon enough.
posted by rada at 1:19 PM on February 11, 2014 [16 favorites]

I am a behavior consultant for kids:

When she yells and says no:
Papa should shrug and stay away from her until she wants him again and then when she's ready for him, the activities they do together should be of the highest priority to her. There should be some favorite activities that are just for them. This will be hard for Papa but he needs to put on a mask and act like it doesn't matter at all to him. It's not about him.

If she pushes or hits:
Time out is completely appropriate. Time out doesn't have to happen in her room. It can occur in a chair from which she can see you. 3 minutes is about appropriate for a three year old but if you haven't done it before you might want to start with less time. Do not engage her during time out unless it's to redirect her back to her chair or spot. When she gets out of time out she should be instructed to apologize for hitting or pushing Papa. She is going to cry bloody murder when you put her in time out and each time you redirect her to her spot for time out. It will either break your heart or make you laugh (maybe both at the same time).

Time with Mama:
It can't hurt to build in an additional routine for just the two of you but I don't think it's really necessary if you're as consistent with your already established routine of one on one time. This maybe triggered by the new baby but really most toddlers to through the "Daddy, get away!" phase.

It may be that since you're home all day with Nom and the baby, Nom is having trouble transitioning from Baby-Nom-Mama activities to Baby-Nom-Mama-and-Papa activities. Start keeping track of how long till Papa gets home about 30 minutes before he arrives each night. Give her frequent updates on how long till he will walk through the door. Make plans with her to show him things from her day or ask him questions. Make up a "Papa is home!" dance and do it with her each day.
posted by dchrssyr at 1:35 PM on February 11, 2014 [25 favorites]

This doesn't have anything to do with the new baby, it's a phase toddlers go through. Both my husband and I work, and when either of us come home, our son will tell us to go back to work, get away. When either of us leave for work, he's crying for that person to stay home. He gets over it pretty quickly. And this happened before baby brother arrived, and still continues. I think it's a control thing? Usually what I do when he says "go back to work mom," I'll say "ok bud, whatever you want, you're the boss" and just head out the door. Then he'll yell at me to come back. They just like to think they're in control over scary things like mom and dad leaving, etc.
posted by katypickle at 1:36 PM on February 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

I know this is hard on you and your husband.

I'm wondering if this has more to do with wanting time with her dad than feeling like he's cutting into time with Mom. Attachment styles look very different from child to child, person to person. In some studies (sorry; source not handy but could be found), of the kids who were most upset about separation from a parent, a large subset responded to that parent's return by "punishing" the parent for having been gone.

I just offer that as an alternate possibility so you don't go to extra lengths to fix what you perceive to be the problem (missing Mom) if that's not it. The real problem is pushing and using unkind words, so teach her to stop that behavior (I've only used time outs, but hopefully your methods of teaching acceptable behavior would cover this).

Is this the only time of most days that she has the attention of both of you at once? If so, that's reason enough to continue the behavior, in the mind of a 3-yr-old.

You say they have sweet interactions also. Does she mention him when he's not there? I know life is hectic enough (especially with the moving; goodness!), but if you can find 10 minutes to help her make him a card--maybe a valentine that he'd never expect so early (super-surprise secret stuff is extra fun)--it can just be construction paper and stickers so long as she has something she's eager to give him when he comes home. That way she has some control during those transitional moments, and she gets to make it a positive experience.

Nthing suggestions for husband to ignore (other than the pushing) and start doing something she might find interesting. Also agreeing that this is so very common, and it will pass.
posted by whoiam at 1:41 PM on February 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

Came back to add that toddlers don't hear words, they see emotions. What I mean by example: when my little one first started going to daycare, he would bite his little friends as a sign of affection. I told him "we don't bite friends" but he kept biting away, until the daycare lady told me that deep down in my heart, I probably thought it was cute - so even as I was telling him to stop, he could tell I didn't really mean it. This was true... I had to get genuinely upset about this - I couldn't just fake it.

If there is a part of you that enjoys being "chosen" - she will see it and may want to continue simply to please you. You have to find it in yourself to truly put yourself in your husband's shoes and not feel good about it.
posted by rada at 1:51 PM on February 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Police behaviour, not intention. If she does violent things then address that as behaviour, but don't respond to the emotion. Soon enough it will flip and daddy will be the bees knees and you'll be chopped liver.

We have gone through this a couple of times with our 5.5 year old daughter and I'm currently on the outs, ("I'm a vegetarian of Chinese food, daddy. And? I don't love you.") it's only a big deal if you let her make it one.

Which doesn't mean it's easy, of course - good luck :)
posted by Sebmojo at 2:03 PM on February 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Correlation is not causation. This is a very, very normal toddler phase, right on schedule.

(And while anecdata is not valid either, I will just tell you that the three year old in our life is totally going through the charming NO DADDY YOU DON'T COME HERE YOU GO AWAY NOW! screeching phase too. His is also accompanied by delightful pushing and occasional dissolution into tears if he's really tired.

This too shall pass.)
posted by DarlingBri at 2:04 PM on February 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

This video might cheer up Mr Nom so he doesn't feel like the only one being dissed by his toddler when he comes home...
posted by Kerasia at 3:09 PM on February 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

very normal toddler phase, right on schedule

That. It can change from one day to another, it's almost like the onset of puberty.

Three years of Cute and Funny. Click. "NO!"

This phase is there for kids to test boundaries. Even if you guys have rather few hot topics at home (like food, bedtime issues, whatever), they still want to test boundaries and so they begin picking their own fights. Bossing around dad is a really creative one...

Coping strategies? Broken record... He seems to be doing pretty well, actually: "Everyone in this house is allowed to stay where they are, and so daddy stays here."

Blowing a fuse as a once-in-a-while-thing is much more effective than all sorts of dour everyday punishments, because it's heartfelt and even the most stubborn three-yearer picks up on that.

Consistency about predictions ("if you do this, that will happen") is paramount: that's exactly what this silly phase is all about.

Good luck!
posted by Namlit at 4:52 PM on February 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

On weekends, my husband will sometimes take Toddler Nom out to the playground so that I have time to sleep in with the baby. Sometimes he also watches kids TV with her.

I think your husband has become the person who takes her away from you, and that this may have become an issue for her when you had the baby and she had to go off with your husband while you gave birth and possibly subsequently when you stayed with the baby in the hospital and she had to go off with him.

I also think she may be fearful that you will be gone when she gets back-- or that when she gets back sometime there will be another baby!

She might or might not be willing to say that if you ask, and I would reassure her you will be there when she returns, and that there won't be another baby anytime soon.
posted by jamjam at 4:53 PM on February 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

This is just a stage. My sons were both like this (around the same age they needed to bond with mommy and only mommy). I found it pretty funny, actually. It passed.

Don't worry about it. I think "punishing" the behaviour is counter-productive. Just ignore it and wait for things to change.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:33 PM on February 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

I just wanted to echo that this is normal. We deliberately transitioned my now-three year old to bedtime with Papa before the baby came (seven months ago) and a couple months in, kiddo began refusing to do bedtime with anyone but me. Papa has more generally come back into favor recently, and he's started asking for the other parent if he doesn't like one's disciplinary efforts, but he still needs lots of Mama time.

I've found that taking the time to connect with him via play at some point in the day makes him really feel loved. I let him figure out what that looks like - lately, he wants me to pretend to be a turtle who goes into her shell when he blows an imaginary train whistle. Days when we play like that have a lot less neediness and whining, and a lot more willingness to spend time with Papa.
posted by linettasky at 11:02 PM on February 11, 2014

I'd like to just echo rada's comments, particularly the part about the parents as a single unit. Kids are fickle, and they can go in spurts with affection. The trick is in getting the child to realize the two of you are a unit, a package deal.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:09 PM on February 17, 2014

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