Question: My son only wants mommy. When Daddy tries to put him to bed, he tells him he wants Mommy. When we go somewhere where he doesn’t know everyone he latches onto my leg or hides behind me. What can I do?
Answer: Children do seem to prefer one parent over another at different stages in their lives. Reassure your husband that his turn will come and to do his best not to take the behavior personally. Your son’s preferences could be developmental or they could be based on familiarity (or a combination of the two).
There’s no one like dad! Absolutely encourage your husband to continue hands-on involvement with your son. If daddy is in charge of bedtime, stay with that plan. Here are some tips to ease your son into the bedtime routine: You could come into the room for a good-night kiss after dad finishes stories. You and dad could alternate nights reading the bedtime stories. Give dad one special bedtime ritual that is his alone to do with your child. For example, he sings a special song all his own. (Don’t worry if dad’s choices are unlike anything you would pick�that’s how it works.) Dad could also give a special back rub or they could count down the seconds to lights out on dad’s wrist watch. Time and repetition will solidify the bonds between father and son.
You don’t have to rescue dad. You might also try to be unavailable to “save” the situation and let your husband and your son work it out together. Even toddlers can let someone know when they don’t like the way things are going. Your son will teach dad what he likes and dad will teach your son his own unique style of work and play. If you want to give dad any suggestions or share strategies that work for you, only do so in neutral settings long after any emotion-filled events.
Do a quick-check of any unintentional messages you may give your son. Try not to convey the message that your son “needs” you. While you willingly and lovingly care for your son, he is also strong and capable. If your son is old enough to talk to you about his likes and dislikes, remind him to speak to dad himself. If your son is younger, you can pass by the room and tell your son to show daddy what he likes. Or, remind your son before bedtime to get his favorite teddy bear or book. Sometimes children need to be encouraged to express their preferences.
Some children need our help building a sense of confidence. It may be a developmental stage or just his personality. Children are not “wrong” when they are clingy – so, never push your son into a situation too quickly. Let him know what his options are: He may wait for you on the side of the room until he feels comfortable. He may hold your hand and walk by your side. The two of you can take a few moments to talk about all “new” people and things. (Remember to only pick options that do not increase your stress.) Build his emotional and social readiness step-by-step.
Respect who he is at this moment of time. Teach him gradually what he needs to learn and you will be surprised at his versatility and mastery in no time. Before you know it, you’ll be asking dad and your son if you can play with them!
Karen Deerwester, Ed.S.