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My 4 year old daughter favours me and
won't let her father do anything for her


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Dear Sir,

I am not sure if you can help me but I came across your details through the Super Nanny website.

I am a 34 year old parent with two daughters one aged 4 and one aged 2.

My husband and I have no problems as such with difficult children I have always maintained discipline and routine in a loving and caring manner with my children.   However one nightmare continually rears its ugly head that we are not sure of how to solve.

As long as I can remember my eldest daughter has favoured me to do everything for her such as dressing, feeding, carrying to bed, taking to the car and putting on the seatbelt etc.   Whenever their dad tries its tears and tantrums all round.   Once I refused to get her out of the family car and she would not let her dad do it and proceeded to sit in the car for over half an hour until I succumbed.

Their father is the most loving and caring dad I have ever seen and it upsets him (and me) to see them treat him that way.

I have not been able to find any books here anyway to help me with this predicament.

If you cannot help would you be able to steer me in the right direction where I can find some advice on this topic.

Yours Sincerely



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Dear Catrina,

This is not uncommon as a problem but if it persists it is nearly always because it has been rewarded and reinforced by the responses of the parents - and parents reward it simply by allowing it and going along with it.

The answer to your problem is contained in these words that you used in you email

"would not let her dad do it"

I would ask you how a 4 year old who has been refusing this since she was a baby could stop her father doing such simple and necessary things?   The answer is that she did not stop him doing it - she could not.   A better way of putting it would be that she made a tremendous fuss each time so, effectively, did not give her permission for him to do it.

Parenting is not always a democracy and some things are necessary even without the child's permission.   Once the child knows that the objection does not produce any change in the parents behaviour then they stop objecting. The time to have prevented this behaviour was the very first time she objected to him or, more likely, she objected and you thought she objected to him.   Babies only continue this behaviour because parents allow it to work.


Since you say    “it upsets him (and me) to see them treat him that way”    it seems that this problem is not just with your older daughter and it might be that you are the one who is stepping in too quickly to do what your children angrily and rudely insist on.

Thirdly when you say:

"and proceeded to sit in the car for over half an hour until I succumbed"

When training children's behaviour parents need to decide what is fair, safe and appropriate and stick to it regardless of what their children are demanding.   An effective parent would never "succumb" in the way you suggest.   How long you have to hold out is immaterial to "succumb" is to give in to childish tyranny.   Half an hour is such a short for you stay firm it suggests that your motivation is to avoid the minor distress your child feels.   This is a short sighted and, ultimately selfish reason since in the long run it very likely to cause the child far more serious distress in their relationships inside and outside the home.

Once children know that you will not give in they stop trying.   Yes, try to avoid these ultimatum situations, but if it is only possible to compromise over minor issues and then right at the beginning never after a categorical "no".

Both you and your husband make the decision that your children's  “distress”  during these contacts with him are more important than the principle of them becoming used to this normal and natural contact from their father.

This, I am afraid, was a very poor choice that you and your husband made and it probably had more to do with your own distress at your children's discomfort than anything else.   You should also be aware that is not uncommon for one parent to be pleased when their children appear to prefer them and unconsciously encourage it.

But even if this is not a factor, think what your children are missing in terms of affection and comfort from their father at these times.   You both thought the priority was their initial distress, this choice would be more understandable if your husband were a very new boyfriend but he is not.   You are effectively allowing yourselves to behave more like a single parent family.

What to do now?

With the two year old your husband should ignore the objections and gently continue with the nappy change (or whatever) using soothing words and calm movements.   This should work within a few days if he can persists and you can stop yourself intervening.

With the 4 year old I would begin slower by insisting at first that her father has some small contact at the beginning with the same soft words and gentle movements - it takes a matter of seconds to undo a seat belt even if you then help her from the car.

Once she has accepted these smaller contacts you might even consider telling your daughter that all contact from now on is with her father at these times but that if she does not make a fuss at these times then you will do the second half of the action or will do it next time. In other words if she accepts contact from him you will both alternate if she does not then she will not get you.

Thirdly, (and this might negate the previous paragraph) a four year old should be largely independent of this personal assistance.
What is it, apart from the seat belt, that she could not now do for herself?
If she still needs the same type of assistance she did when she was a baby then you are holding her back, your role (and your husband's) should be to train her to do these things for herself rather than do them for her.

Lastly, there is a sensitive issue that should be mentioned -   that of abuse.

The fact that your daughter began doing this when she was very small but did not (as I understand it) complain about all physical contact with her father is important.

Children who suddenly begin to object to all physical contact may be indicating that they are being abused either inside or outside the home and  (especially if there are any other indicators)  then mothers (and fathers for that matter) must always investigate.   Children who complain about particular contacts may be indicating that they are, or have been, abused physically by an angry parent (or sexually) during that activity.

The behaviour you describe by itself should not be unduly worried about - any other indicators cannot be ignored.

I hope this has been helpful.

If you feel you need help making the changes you need to make please give me a ring.



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