Mom is worried because daughter prefers Dad


January 23, 2000|By T. Berry Brazelton, M.D. | T. Berry Brazelton, M.D.,NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SPECIAL FEATURES

Q. I am a stay-at-home mother of an 18-month-old girl. Since she was 6 months old, she has shown a definite, often intense preference for her father -- particularly during stressful times.

Most of the time, I try very hard not to overreact or even show much emotion about her choice, but I do occasionally feel hurt and rejected.

I have read articles on development focusing on a child's shifting preferences, but my daughter's preference has been consistent. When I see other children clinging to their mothers, I wonder where I went wrong. I have never been physically or verbally abusive, and she does openly and spontaneously give me love and affection.

Is this strong preference for her father natural? How can I strengthen our bond?

A. It sounds as if you are suffering because of your daughter's demonstrated preference. She may know this and may play on it to get a response from you. Try not to take it personally.

It could be that she already knows you are hers, so she doesn't need to woo you the way she does your husband.

The competitive feelings you have for your daughter's affections are perfectly understandable. All parents and caregivers feel competitive for a child they care about. However, it sounds as if your daughter may be pitting you and your husband against each other. Try not to fall into this trap.

Talk this over with your husband. Perhaps he can help include you in some things.

Do you rock your daughter and pick her up to love her spontaneously when her father is not there? Be sure to have fun times alone with her.

Remember that many children don't have a father to whom they can cling. It is great that she has both of you.

Q. Our 3-year-old son gets along great with adults or older children but seems to have a problem socializing with kids his own age. He attends preschool three days a week, but he spends most of his time talking with his teachers or doing his own thing -- not interacting much with the other kids.

He is an only child with no cousins nearby and no playmates on our block, so he is not around children that often. I try to set up play dates once a week, and I was hoping preschool would help foster his socialization skills. What else can we do to make him more comfortable with his peers?

A. You are right to be concerned, and I'd try to find him one or two playmates who are "intellectuals" like him, so he can learn to socialize with peers. It is a necessary skill -- one that cannot be replaced by relationships with adults or older children.

Try to find similar playmates he can see several times a week, and give him a chance to learn how to make friends with them. It sounds as if he just hasn't had enough experience so far.

Q. My 6-year-old son will not have a bowel movement in a public restroom. He says he doesn't like those toilet seats that are split in the front because they don't fit right.

Sometimes he comes home with a stomachache but feels fine after he goes to the bathroom. I've tried being firm and insisting that he use the restroom at school, but he becomes almost hysterical and tells me he doesn't have to go to the bathroom anymore. Then he gets constipated.

Any suggestions?

A. Take the pressure off. Let him know he can wait each day until he gets home from school. But be sure his bowel movements stay soft, or his withholding may get worse. Talk to his doctor about the possibility of a stool softener.

He'll outgrow this phobia if you relax and stay out of it.

Q. My family is about to face a major change in our lives: the deployment of my husband to Boston for a nine-month tour. We have two children, who will be 4 and 2 1/2 . I work full-time, and we have no relatives in this area. Please advise us about preparing the children.

A. First, you and your husband need to handle your own feelings about the separation. Then you can help the children with theirs. Your husband can make videos of himself that can be incorporated into the children's routines. He can call at special times. He can also give each of them a "lovey" from him to cuddle when they miss him.

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