“I have a three-year-old son who has always shown a preference for his father from about the age of one, just after I stopped nursing him. I try to have special times with him where it’s just him and me, and I often bring him treats back after I’ve been out at work all day (we both work long hours). But he always seems to prefer his daddy, and will often play us off against each other, he won’t say goodbye to me in the mornings and often acts up with me a lot more. Why is my toddler rejecting me? How should I deal with him and react to his rejection?”  

Reader problem: Why is my toddler rejecting me?

Joanne Jewell:
"It can be hard to feel rejected by our children, but please be reassured your son has no conscious intention of doing this – he is a delightful ball of bouncing emotions at the moment and logic only plays a tiny part in his life – as you will often see reflected in his behaviour. From a developmental perspective your son is egocentric, which means that he is focused on developing his emotions, his needs and learning about how he feels and how other people react to him. This is not manipulation or rejection and is a key part of his growth into being a person later in life who is able to develop the social and emotional awareness of others – but only after he has learnt his own! A three year old does not consider the feelings of others as they are only just learning to recognise and understand their feelings about themselves – this is why teaching them the skills of listening, empathy and compassion are so important – and we teach these through role-modelling and utilising these skills with them. Please don’t feel the need to bring him treats or presents when you come home – your presence and connection are the most important things to him and I’m so pleased to hear you focus on having one-to-one time with him whenever you can as this is the key to building a secure and long-lasting relationship with him. If possible it would be ideal if you could manage 10-15 minutes per day one-to-one time with him; be emotionally responsive to him and engage in child-led play where he chooses the activity, sit and listen to him, read a book and have a cuddle. Children go through phases where they prefer to be with one parent or the other and this is natural – the important thing is to make the time to ensure your connection with him is positive and responsive.”
- Joanne Jewell is an adolescent and child counsellor and parenting expert who runs Mindful Parenting classes and course in the UAE. Visit mindfulparentinguae.net

Reader problem: Why is my toddler rejecting me?

Dr. Sarah Rasmi:
“It can be difficult and hurtful when a child seems to favour one parent over the other. But rest assured, it’s not uncommon. Many children, especially sons, show preferences for their fathers when they are toddlers. There is a lot of research on what happens when a parent prefers one of their children, but very little about children who favour one parent over the other. There are, however, some theories on why this happens.

The main explanation is simple: Children identify more with parents of the same gender. This also means that sons tend to share more interests with their fathers, whereas daughters have more in common with their mothers. It’s important to understand that this doesn’t mean that your child loves you any less than he loves his father. The relationships are simply different.

Here are some practical tips for getting through this phase:

• Continue to be loving, even when your son rejects you. Pulling away will only create more distance. Also, try to avoid guilt trips because they won’t work.

• Physically connect. Cuddling and tickling release oxytocin (the bonding hormone).

• Join your son in his favourite activities. Mothers often get caught up in the day-to-day tasks, meaning that they miss out on the chance to be the “fun” parent.

• Start a new, fun tradition with your son. Pick an activity that he really loves and do it with him on a regular basis. It will give you both something to look forward to.

• Be fully present when you are with your son. Put away all distractions to show him how much you value him and your time.

• Ask for your husband’s support. Remind him not to swoop in when your son protests (and don’t worry when he does, it won’t last forever).

• Tell your husband to vouch for you. Encourage your husband to share stories about how fun and cool you are. These stories will pique your son’s interest – run with it."

- Dr. Sarah Rasmi is a psychologist and professor who specialises in parenting and families. For more information about her, and to register for a chance to win a free parenting consultation, please see www.drsarahrasmi.com.

Photos by Istock