In my work as a Hand in Hand parenting instructor I’ve heard from many dads who feel pushed out. They experience hurt and upset, when their kids say, ‘’I don’t like you daddy, I only want mummy.’’ They aren’t sure how to build strong connections with their children when so much of the time they feel like they aren’t ‘needed,’ or are the second choice.
So I wanted to share something about the brain science of what comes out of kid’s mouths when they’re upset. When a child is having strong feelings, the limbic system – the emotional part of the brain, senses a kind of ‘emotional emergency.’ When this happens, the pre-frontal cortex,- the part of the brain responsible for reason, logic, and language can’t function as well. So the things a child that come out of a child’s mouth when they’re upset may not be statements that reflect how they really feel.
The other thing is that when our children get upset in the present, there’s often a deeper reason for their emotions. The psychologist Aletha Solter coined the term ‘the broken cookie phenomenon’ to explain how children often use everyday situations for bigger feelings. A child may pin their emotions onto wanting only mummy, when deep down their upset is to do with accumulated stress throughout the day, or trauma or upset from their early lives.
All babies and toddlers experience separation anxiety and we can help them through this phase with lots of listening and connection. This can make it easier for dads to spend as much time with their kids as possible, and give mums a much needed break!
Here are five tips for working through the ‘’I only want mummy phase!’’
- Don’t take it personally – In Torsten’s Klaus book The Empathic Father The Empathic Father he reassures Dads that a preference for mummy isn’t anything personal. He explains how the relationship with the mother begins before birth so it goes pretty deep. As mother’s are often the primary caregiver it’s natural that kids often gravitate towards them. But he also explains that sometimes when children say ‘’I don’t want you daddy,’’ is actually a coded message for, ‘’I want to spend more time with you.’’
- Find Support – Do you have a friend who you can chat to whose going through something similar? When we have struggles and upsets, it can be really helpful to vent with someone who understands what you’re going through. Hand in Hand parenting has a listening partnership scheme so you can connect with other dads, and release some of the stress and challenges that come up around parenting. Listening partnerships really helped Ben Linn, a hand in hand instructor and father of two.
- Play Around separation. Laughter is a fun way to deepen family connection and help children release tension and anxiety around separation. You can try peek a boo with babies, or for older children you could try playing ‘’he’s mine’’ where you and your partner playfully ‘’fight,’’ over your toddler while they soak up warm attention.
4.When your child is upset just listen. There’s a big misunderstanding in our culture that if children cry or get upset we should try and distract them or fix the situation as quickly as possible to stop them from crying. However crying is actually a healing process, and stress hormones are actually contained in tears, so when children cry they are literally releasing stress from their bodies. Being there to listen, and help them heal deepens our connection to them.
- Set limits and have a long goodbye– If you need to look after your child, then it can be really helpful to leave time for a long goodbye. If your child gets upset, when your partner leaves, you can both stay with them, and listen to the upset feelings that make separation from mummy feel scary. When upset feelings are no longer clouding your child’s mind, you’ll be ready for fun and games, and you’ll be building the connections that will last a lifetime.
I hope you find these tips helpful! If you try them out I’d love to hear how you get on so feel free to leave a comment. Wishing you lots of joyful connected times with your children.
Kate Orson is a Hand in Hand Parenting Instructor, and mother to a 4 year old daughter. Originally from the UK she now lives in Basel, Switzerland. She is the author of Tears Heal, How To Listen To Our Children. Connect with Kate on Facebook, Twitter, or follow her blog Listening To Tears.
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