Why Is Your Toddler Rejecting You?
Pam, the mother of two-year-old Leslie, said that she has been upset lately because her daughter has been rejecting her.
“She’s our only child,” Pam said, “and I’m a stay-at-home mom.”
Joe, the father of three-year-old Jimmy, says that he’s experienced the same thing. “I love Jimmy and I think I’m really good with him,” Joe said, “so I don’t understand why he won’t let me read to him and always wants his mom.”
For both Joe and Pam, being rejected by their toddlers is very unsettling. Both parents said they’ve heard of children rejecting one of their parents sometimes, but both said they thought it had to do with a parent being mean or disciplining too much.
“I’m so attached to Leslie,” Pam said. “I play with her, read to her, and try to do all the things everyone says good parents should do, and all I get is being told to go away.”
“I thought boys were supposed to love their fathers,” Joe said. “They’re not supposed to tell you to get away or tell you they don’t want you.”
“What bothers me the most,” added Pam, “is that when we are out, for example at a friend’s house or at my mother’s house, all she says is, ‘No, go away, Mommy. Go sit over there.’” Both Pam and Joe said they want to have a loving, close relationship with their children, but that they don’t feel like their children love them or want them around.
What Joe, Pam, and other parents have experienced is very common during the toddler ages between one and four years of age. Children will frequently go through stages where they reject one or the other of their parents. And the reasons have nothing to do with you being mean, harsh, punitive, or rejecting of them. The reasons have to do with some of the challenges of the toddler years for youngsters.
Two- and three-year-olds are challenging because they want to be more independent. Furthermore, they want to have more control in their lives, and they often have strange whims and even obsessions. They love to make choices and they love to reject what others want for them. And rejecting one of their parents is one of the ways they can exercise control and show their power.
While rejecting a parent may make you feel sad or unimportant, it is usually a temporary whim and they don’t really mean they don’t love you or want you in their life. They want more power and control at a stage when they get frustrated with being bossed around and controlled by the big people around them.
It’s important that when this happens that you not take it personally. Toddlers change their minds frequently, have difficulty making choices sometimes, and besides rejecting you, may freak out over the simplest thing you may say or do, or they might hit or kick you if they get mad enough. These things don’t mean they really hate you. They just mean that they are struggling with learning to control their emotions and their behavior.
If you don’t take it personally, then you aren’t likely to overreact or overly dramatize the rejection. You can just accept this as an aspect of being a toddler.
But aside from accepting rejection and not overreacting to it, you might have some fun with it, too. If your daughter directs you to “Go away” or tells you, “Daddy, sit over there,” play along with it and make a game of it. So much of parenting a toddler is turning their rejection, tantrums, and opposition into fun and games.
Toddlers are just learning what is serious and what isn’t. They don’t know that it may break your heart if they tell you they don’t want you to read to them. Thus, there’s no point in trying to make them feel guilty for something they can’t help doing anyway. It’s easier – and there will be fewer negative feelings for you — if you play along with her rejection. Since toddlers see much of the parent-child relationship as a game, you might as well make a game out of this.
By making a game of it, you will distract him or her, and they’ll soon forget that they wanted you to go away.