A Toddler Dismisses Her Dad

Toddler Disses Dad Alison Escalante MD

“How do I stay close to my daughter?” wrote a worried father. He shared with me how much he loves his 16 month old toddler. To care for her and provide for his family, he commutes an hour and a half each way to and from work every day. But when he arrives home from work, eager to see her, this toddler keeps rejecting her father.

When he gets home, she wants nothing to do with him. This really hurts him. At first he wondered if she didn’t like him. It seemed like his toddler was rejecting her father. Then he thought this might have to do with the way she’s been really into her mom lately. “I thought maybe it was separation anxiety,” he wrote.

He learned that if he didn’t make a big deal about getting home and wanting a hug, she did better. When he waits until she comes to him, it goes a lot better. “It’s gotten better than it was,” he wrote, “ but still Mondays and Tuesdays are really hard.” That makes sense, because those are the first days of the week, which means the first days of the separation from his daughter. “So…how do I stay close to my daughter?”

VLOG Post: A Toddler Disses Her Dad

I wondered if this father felt rejected by his daughter. I’d imagine that he does, and I would like to reassure him that this behavior is not an indication of dislike. Rather, his daughter is showing that she really missed him and doesn’t like the long separations. That’s why she acts stand-offish: it’s hard for her to deal with her Dad because her feelings are so intense.

What’s Going On Here?

In this exchange I noticed two things. First, I observed how much this Father loves his daughter. It’s hard to minimize how much it hurts for parents when we spend all our time wanting to get home to our little ones, only to find they don’t want to connect with us.

Second, I considered how often I’ve heard this story. This is a common experience for parents when they’re separated from their children. Is this toddler rejecting her father? Is this toddler being mean to her Dad? Children often act dismissive toward us when we just want to be with them during that time when we first get back together. It is one of the big drivers of guilt in parents, especially mothers, who work. Their child’s reaction convinces them of all they feared: that being away from their kids to work is letting them down.

How do I stay close to my daughter, ask a father. His toddler daughter is rejecting her father when he gets home from work, and the pediatrician's trick to help.
Stand-Offish Toddler

Working to provide for the family is not letting our kids down. Neither is taking a couple hours to go to the gym and annoying your little one by putting them in the kids playroom. Consider that these separations are valuable practice for our children. They are a chance for our kids to try managing for themselves for a while, in the safe and caring environments where we leave them. Pediatricians observe repeatedly that children who are never away from their parents actually have a much harder time with separation anxiety than those who get to practice here and there.

How do I stay close to my daughter? A Fun Trick for Stand-Offish Kids

Beyond just understanding what’s going on with his daughter, and the wisdom of giving her a minute to warm up, I have one more trick up my sleeve. This is a little method I’ve used for many years with shy children in my office.

All too often, when I walk into an exam room, young children suddenly stop playing and run to their parents. “Go say Hi to the doctor,” their parents say. The child’s body language is screaming, “No way, no how!” Sometimes parents actually try to push their kids toward me, but I suggest they wait and explain why it’s a good thing that their child has decided to check me out before they trust me. I may be well known to their parents, but with three to six months between visits, I am a relative stranger to their kids.

So, what do I do with a shy kid? I flip it. I act shy. I don’t try to get them interested in me, or even wait until they get interested. I turn it into a game.

I pretend that I’m scared of them. I start to hide behind my computer screen, or under my desk saying “Oh no, don’t look at me.”

Or I’ll play peekaboo. I’ll say, “Oh, no, don’t, don’t give me a hug.” And before you know it, we’ve got giggles, we’ve got smiles and we’ve got interest.

How do I stay close to my daughter, asks a father. His toddler daughter is rejecting her father when he gets home from work. Here's the pediatrician's trick to help. #fatherhood #parentingtips #toddler #workingparent

You can try this trick with your little one, but remember that even if it doesn’t work, they act this way because they care so much about us. It’s not because we don’t matter, but because they missed us.

Have you ever wished for a group of parents where you could really let down your hair and admit how rough parenting is? Particularly a group interested in growing into the best parents for their kids? Check out Should-Free Parenting, our facebook group. Or find out about the Parenting “ShouldStorm” by watching my TEDx talk.

©Alison Escalante MD
Disclaimer: This article represents general education and does not constitute medical advice. My ideas are mine alone.

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Author: Alison Escalante MD

Alison Escalante MD is a Pediatrician, TEDx Speaker, Writer and Mother on a mission to help parents caught in the culture of criticism.

8 thoughts on “A Toddler Dismisses Her Dad”

  1. My issue as a dad… is my 1 year old is all about me….. until I go work outside. Weathers it’s mowing or shop work. As soon as I come in she throws a rip roaring fit when she looks at me. It is to the point that she will even fight sleep knowing I am in the house so I have to go back outside. Idk why she acts that way it it just tears me up inside. I love her so much and I know she knows cause it’s all ways about daddy even when mommy is home. I dread mowing or any outside work anymore because I hate to see her so upset. I have tried to love on her and comfort her but she pushes away like I am a total stranger. And I thought after a nap she would wake up and be totally different but I am not joking when I say this… it takes about a day or so after I work outdoors for her to warm back up to me which is tough when I have her to myself and moms at work. Any advice or reason behind this?

  2. Look I’m in the military which means I work away all the time, but I travel half way across the country every weekend and I know she doesn’t understand but a lot of parents wouldn’t just to see my little girl and she just doesn’t want to know me, and I just don’t know what I can do, you go through a lot in my job but nothing has been as hard as coming home to the one thing you love more than anything in the world to feel like she just doesn’t want you around, I understand and have read these posts but they are all about people who work day jobs so it’s a lot harder for me as I am away all week sometimes for 2 or 3 and maybe only have 2 days

    1. mOM IS SUBVERTING…CONTROLLING the family by setting up child agianst DAD and not supporting but undermining him; also something aobut ambiguity and affectng and confusing Dad’s view of reality! see PAULA in Gaslighting; Ingrid Bergman and Chas Boyer (1941)

  3. I wish this would work for us… I’m the mom in this situation and I’m exhausted because our almost 2 year old wants nothing to do with dad. I can’t get anything done and now I’m sick and can’t even take a nap or rest. Because she will cry if dad even approaches her. If he just waited for her to come to him he’d be waiting all day. He’s practically given up since we have tried everything so he sits there on his computer and she has no desire to come to him. If he tries to just hang around quietly with us, still she cries. I’m at my wit’s end.

  4. I wanted to take heart from this, but after the last couple of months I have noticed this is BS.
    My wife has to go to work, while I’m stuck in home office due to COVID. My daughter has been home with me and I’ve been spending all day, every day with her. Catching up on work when she’s sleeping or after Mom gets home. But instead of my daughter growing closer to me, the hate is getting even worse. As long as it’s just me who’s around, she’s fine. But add Mom or a grandparent or uncle and I’m not allowed to get close to her or she’ll start screaming like a banshee. Putting her to bed usually results in me needing first aid (not exaggerating!) because she will do everything she can to get away from me. Including clawing at my face, kicking, punching, headbutting and biting until she draws blood. I’m at an end… I’ve done everything for her and given up everything for her and in return, I get this.

    1. Totally understand this.. so hurtful.
      My daughter is the same with me and I have spent the last year WFH due to Covid. I just don’t get it…. I feel she hates me..

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