Tuesday 20 February 2018

Why does my toddler not want to give me kisses like she does with mammy?

Father and daughter. (Picture posed)
Father and daughter. (Picture posed)
David Coleman

David Coleman

WE'VE a toddler who is just two-and-a-half. She is very independent and, I believe, very happy. But, we've a slight issue insofar as she's less happy to give a kiss to me than to her mammy.

That said, if I'm holding her she is happy to give a hug. Sometimes she'll say "No daddy" when I ask her for a kiss. It can be a little bit distressing, both for me and my wife, but we're doing our best to not make too big an issue out of it. We reckon it's her age and her independence.

She's naturally more clingy to mammy as she spends more time with her; I spend two days away from home per week, working. On occasion, if I've had a bit of stubble I've given her a kiss and I think that the sensation is not nice for her, so I do my best to avoid this. I wonder if this is the cause? Am I over-anxious about not getting kisses like my wife does? Is this normal?

David Coleman replies: Yes, it is perfectly normal for children to treat their parents very differently.

Parents are not a single homogenous bunch. We are all individuals and so we each have our individual, and different, relationship with our children.

It is not right for us to expect our children to treat us all in the same manner. Especially at age two, children are acting mostly from instinct and according to whatever social learning they have managed to glean from their surroundings.

Your aim is not to have the same relationship with your daughter as your wife has with her, but rather to have your own, very important, relationship with her.

You love her to bits, I'm sure, and she does absolutely love you in return – assuming you are fair and kind and loving towards her!

In my opinion, kissing is not a fair or an appropriate indicator of the quality of your relationship with your daughter.

Her desire to be with you, to be close to you, to be held by you and to play with you are much more appropriate signs that your relationship with her is healthy.

Perhaps getting a kiss from your daughter is very meaningful for you. But getting a kiss doesn't mean she loves you more or less.

Indeed, at that age, children most often give a kiss in response to a request rather than of their own volition.

Your goal, I think, is to build your own positive relationship with her by spending as much time as possible with her and by having fun with her. Do the things with her that dads are famed for; rough and tumble, chasing, tickling, playful games like being a "monster" trying to eat her ... and all that kind of stuff.

Don't worry about kissing her, or getting kisses from her. I think they will naturally happen as you feel closer to her and she to you.

Don't forget, you are away for at least two days a week and gone from the house for hours, at work, on other days. So, I'm guessing that your opportunities to just hang out are somewhat limited.

If your wife is at home with your daughter then, naturally, she will be the primary carer and so your daughter will be very close to her. They have the benefit of more time to develop their relationship.

Does that mean that she can't or won't be close to you? No, of course it doesn't. But you and she will express your relationship in a different way from the way she expresses it with your wife.

Perhaps she did find it uncomfortable when you kissed her with a stubbly face and maybe that did give her a physically negative experience of kissing you. However, in the long term, I don't think that is an issue.

Overall, though, I think it is a very positive sign that your daughter differentiates between people. It isn't a big deal that she kisses you less than she kisses her mammy.

Don't focus on kissing as the only sign that she loves you. Notice how much she just likes being in your company.


Our preteen has a bedtime routine, and paces the house when she can't get to sleep

MY 12-year-old daughter has been having problems getting to sleep since May last year. She has a set routine in her mind for bedtime, which includes eating sleep-inducing food and drinking milk. She then needs a set number of hugs from her Dad and I.

She can get to sleep some nights with no difficulty but if any part of her routine is out of synch, she has trouble getting to sleep. She could end up walking up and down the corridor, checking in with us every 10 minutes or so and ends up distressed and crying and unable to understand why she can't sleep. We often end up sleeping with her to help settle her. We have sought help from the GP, a hypnotherapist and a counsellor. I have tried to teach her breathing exercises. She is due to go to secondary school in September and I worry this will disturb her even more.

David Coleman replies: Sleep is often one of the first areas of our lives to get disrupted when we are anxious, stressed or upset. Think back to key pressure points in your own life and I can imagine you will recall either finding it hard to get to sleep, waking frequently or waking very early.

Similarly for children, when something bothers them or stresses them, it may show itself in some kind of disrupted sleep.

Your daughter does sound like she suffers from anxiety. Would you consider yourself or your husband to be anxious people? Even in how you express your query, you refer to many of your own worries. Anxiety and sleep issues can affect any age of child, but anxiety amongst children, generally, is higher when parents show lots of anxiety. This is sometimes referred to as "trickle-down anxiety".

So, one very helpful thing you can do for your daughter is to role-model strong, self-assured behaviour. Even your responses to her about her anxiety will benefit from sounding decisive, clear, warm and reassuring.

Some of her worry about not falling asleep may be associated with a wider family concern that this is a big problem for her and for the family. Naturally, anxiety becomes a self-reinforcing cycle with the "worrying about worrying" increasing the anxiety and giving us more to worry about.

So, I think it will help your daughter if you and her dad give her lots of messages about your confidence in her ability to cope. This might offset the messages she may currently get that she can't cope (as evidenced by all of the different interventions that you are trying). She needs to learn to settle to sleep on her own. Part of her ability to do that will come from your unshakeable belief that she will be able to achieve this. Give her a clear message that not going to sleep is not a problem. It is fine for her to lie in her bed, awake. She will eventually fall asleep. But what you are aiming to reduce is the fear or worry that she has that she'll "never" get to sleep. For example, I'll bet she usually falls asleep at some point each night.

In contrast, walking around the house after she is supposed to be in bed is a problem. Agree to check on her twice, at 20-minute intervals, after she has gone to bed and tell her she may not come out of her room to check on you.

If she does come out, then just tell her, gently, to go back to bed and don't engage further. It may seem a bit heartless, but her constant coming out is, no doubt, reinforced when she gets your concern, frustration and engagement, including occasionally coming to bed with her.

Things like the transition to secondary school may well be a big challenge for her. But, again, it is really important that she gets messages that you have faith in her ability to cope.

Just like with small children, you may find that it is your confidence in her and your positive and hopeful attitude towards her and her capability that will help to regulate her anxieties, bringing them down and giving her greater hope for herself that she can cope and can settle at night.

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