Ask Dr. Mary

Rejecting Daddy

Q. My 2-year-old seems to be rejecting his daddy. He doesn?t like his dad to hold him and always wants me to give him a bath and read him a bedtime story. I think my husband is feeling hurt and I don?t know what to do.

A. Many toddlers go through times when they prefer one parent over the other, so your toddler is not unique. However, this can be an emotionally challenging time, both for the parent who?s being slighted and the one who is preferred.

When our children seem to reject us, it?s natural to feel hurt and want to make everything right again. But it?s important that you realize that your child?s behavior is normal and requires little reaction on your (or your husband?s) part.

Your husband does need to be careful not to pull away from your son because of his hurt feelings. Sometimes the rejected parent can unconsciously disengage from the child in order to avoid the pain of being rejected. Your husband needs to stay involved in your son?s daily activities and continue to show love and affection, even if it isn?t reciprocated right now.

Instead, if your son says he wants you to put him to bed tonight, your husband can give him a quick, breezy kiss and say something like, "Nighty, night. I?m looking forward to taking you to the park tomorrow." This will remind your son of the special times he shares with his dad, but doesn?t put emphasis on the issue at hand.

Times of parental preference, although awkward or embarrassing, are just another stage to get through. Before long, your child will likely outgrow this behavior.

Family Feud

Q. My two teenage children argue from the minute they wake up until they go to sleep. They say they hate each other and that really hurts me. I?m afraid they?ll never get along. Is there anything I can do besides wait until they get older?

A. "The people we hurt the most are the people we love the most." I?ve often repeated this statement to myself as I?ve struggled through similar seasons when our kids were all teens. Now that our daughters are 22 and 21, I?m beginning to catch hopeful glimpses that they might eventually be close friends. Our son, at 18, is still where your teens are.

It?s true that time often heals old wounds and our children might eventually find themselves in situations where they need each other. But as parents we can take three specific steps to avoid wasting emotional energy now.

First, emphasize the good choices each teen makes. Do this without fueling competition. For example, I often must stop myself from comparing my children by saying such things as, "Your sister did such a neat job printing out that scholarship application. Why can?t you write like that?" Instead I look for positive things to say: "I love to listen to you tell a story. You really have a knack for making people laugh."

Second, don?t allow hateful comments. Stop teens, in mid-sentence if necessary, by saying, "We don?t talk that way. That is unacceptable."

Third, pray for your teens and their relationships. Earlier today, hours before I read your question, I prayed that God would guide the development of a stronger relationship between our son and one of his sisters. Some people joke that parents of teens pray more than anyone else. Perhaps we do, but I believe that offering this and other situations to God is the most effective way to guide our teens toward maturity.

Children and Grief

Q. We recently had a baby who died shortly after birth. Our children, 5 and 7 years old, didn?t even get a chance to see the baby. We?re not sure how to handle the situation. We don?t want our children to fear death, yet we want them to understand what happened.

A. I?m so sorry for your loss. There?s no easy way to help children grieve, especially when you are grieving yourself. The best approach is to talk openly about your loss and share your feelings honestly. This is the first step toward healing for everyone. Answer your children?s questions and respond to their concerns, even if it means admitting, "I don?t know."

During the grieving process, your children will probably see you cry; tears are a natural response to sadness. However, because your children are young, they may be bothered or scared to see you in tears. At this age, children often view their parents almost as super heroes, so when we break down, they don?t know how to react. This doesn?t mean you should hide your feelings. Instead, explain why you feel sad and that sadness often brings tears. This will help your children see tears as a normal response to the death of someone we love.

Grieving happens on a personal timetable. You, your husband and your children may find yourselves at different points in the next few weeks and months. Also, even though you might thoroughly discuss the loss now, your children may ask questions about their sibling for a number of years. Because your children are at ages where they?ll have a hard time visualizing someone they never saw, you might share a photo of the baby, ultrasound or any other tangible items related to your child, as the appropriate opportunity arises.

The Compassionate Friends organization helps families deal with grief following the death of a child. Use its website (www.compassionatefriends.org) to locate area contacts, see a list of resources and review other helpful information. Many hospitals and churches also sponsor short-term counseling sessions for siblings and grandparents.

Mary Manz Simon is an author, speaker and practical parenting specialist. "Front Porch Parenting," her daily radio program, airs on almost 200 stations.

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Christian Parenting Today
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