I have two kids - a nearly 7 year old boy and a just turned 3 year old girl.

For the past 12 months, my 3 year old daughter essentially refuses to speak to me unless it suits her:

  • When she comes into our bedroom in the morning, she will cuddle her mother, but won't acknowledge my presence. She will ignore me if I speak to her, or eventually say "noooooooooooo!" and shrink away from me if I ask her for a cuddle
  • She sometimes gets upset with me just for looking at her
  • She ignores me when I speak to her or ask her a question

Except for when it suits her. If her mother isn't around, she reverts back to her old self of being friendly with me - we play games or have a tea party or do puzzles together and have a generally good time.

But as soon as mum is back in the picture, she reverts back to pretending I don't exist. She (and her brother was the same) has been in "terrible twos" since about 18 months old, but recently her attitude towards me is getting worse.

The only exception is bed time. I do the bed time routine for both our kids, every single night. Bath, get dressed, brush teeth, read story, into bed, prayers and then goodnight. I rarely ever have an issue with bedtime.

It's really starting to wear me down. The only thing I can think of is that I do tend to be the one who hands out discipline if I am home, and her attitude means that if I ask her to clean up her toys and she ignores me, she eventually ends up in time out (after warnings and a count to 3). But Mum also hands out discipline in the same way when I am not home.

I had (and continue to have) an excellent relationship with my son, and I just want to have a similar relationship with my daughter.

Seems I've been a bit light on the background information, so here we go:

  • She started her "terrible twos" around 18 months, which was also when she became fiercely independent. She won't accept help from anyone for anything unless she is, for example, literally stuck inside an inside out t-shirt and can't move her arms to help herself.
  • When she does need help, her first point of call is Mum. Sometimes she won't accept help from me either, and will be very upset with me if I continue to help her.
  • She is like this with strangers as well, but I expect that behaviour around strangers
  • She hates Time Out. Most of the time the threat of Time Out is very effective. But...
  • She can have a tantrum for 30-45 minutes over inane things. When we see her starting to break down, we disengage from her and will take her somewhere that she can flail around without hurting herself or anything else. These tend to end well with her coming to give us a hug and an apology, along with us discussing with her why this happened. She never has a tantrum outside of the house.
  • Even though bed time is easy and the best time I have with her, she still won't let me kiss her (she will wipe it off if I do it anyway)
  • After reading "remember to tell her that you like her as well as love her" from Willow below, I dropped down her her level and asked her "Is Daddy your friend?" and she said "No" (as expected), to which I replied "Well, you are Daddy's friend and I would like to be your friend". This seemed to make her stop and think. She said that maybe I can be her friend again later.
  • I take her and my son to church every Sunday on my own. She loves going to Church and is exceedingly well behaved - but again, this is not uncommon when her mother is not around.
  • Her mother is sympathetic to my problem, and she helps when she can. Sometimes (not always) she will tell her that if she needs help, to go and ask Daddy. My daughter then usually finds a workaround to her problem that doesn't involve me.
  • We have no family here. We are Australians, but are living in the US (we moved when my daughter was still an infant). She is better with her grandparents over video chat (and on the very rare occasion that we see them in person) than she is with me.
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    Please don't feel that adding detail is cumbersome to the reader. Details help us to give better answers. May 12, 2017 at 14:45
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    Might be worth setting up a "daddy date day" where you take your daughter out of your home, just you and her, and go do something fun. It doesn't have to be long, or expensive... A trip to the park, zoo, lunch together, etc. The point is that you should take her out of her element (home) and spend some one-on-one time with her.
    – Ron Beyer
    May 12, 2017 at 15:09
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    It sounds like a phase, please don't let it worry you too much. Children go back and forth as to which parent they prefer. The "daddy date" that Ron suggested is a great idea, my husband and I try to do that regularly with our kids. So we'll have a daddy-daughter and mommy-son day one time, and next time we'll have a daddy-son, mommy-daughter day. You might also express in terms of your own feelings; ("It makes me sad when I can't hug you or help you with your clothes") Try to keep it in "I" language (ie, not "it makes me sad when you won't hug me") May 15, 2017 at 19:15
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    Thought I would post a follow-up. I can't believe it's only been 2 months since I posted this, but my relationship with my daughter has increased dramatically. We're not at the stage I would like to be, but she now speak to me, plays with me, and will go out of the house with me. I can't put a finger on any one thing that has helped, but definitely the advice of the answers below were useful. Aug 7, 2017 at 17:27
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    Reading back on this, She never has a tantrum outside of the house - god I wish this was still a true statement Jul 3, 2018 at 15:58

2 Answers 2


I had (and continue to have) an excellent relationship with my son, and I just want to have a similar relationship with my daughter.

You will.

Your daughter is going through a phase (albeit a very long one.) She's learned that she has control over people, over their behavior and their feelings, and just as she exercised her control over motor skills and speech, she's exercising this control over people. It is very likely harmless (in her mind). You can accept that it's a phase and just let it go, or you can look at it as her being hurtful to you. If it's really going on a year, I would want to deal with it. At 3, preschoolers start using empathy in their interactions; if you want her behavior to change, start tapping into this empathy.

If you want to deal with it openly, read about empathy in preschoolers, and make sure she has:

  • an emotional vocabulary (feeling words).

There are many lists of feeling words on the internet. Aim high; in general, I think they are too limited. When she is interacting with you, assign feeling words to characters in stories you're reading, situations where she is feeling happy/sad/frustrated/ignored/important (valued)/loved, etc.You can have her point to faces showing surprise, delight, happiness, anger, etc. if you want to check her understanding. Ask what a particular character in a fairy tale might feel. Use opportunities to make sure she has the vocabulary down.

  • plenty of opportunities to practice using feeling words.

Ask what a particular character in a fairy tale might feel. Ask her how she would feel if you skipped bath time or tooth brushing time (she might like that!) Ask her how she would feel if you didn't read her a story at night.

  • opportunities to practice empathetic responses.

If she's distressed, ask her what would make her feel better. If a character in a story is facing a dilemma, ask what would make them feel 'better/safer/more loved/more valued/etc. Do the same if her brother or her mother is in an emotional situation. Brainstorm meaningful ways to show kindness.

  • an empathic role model (you).

  • a safe feeling to express herself.

Once she has an emotional vocabulary that includes sad, not loved, hurt, etc., it's time to get your wife involved. This has to be a united front.

When she ignores you and goes to mom, mom questions the child about what you might be feeling, using a choice of feeling words if necessary, and has your daughter respond. "What do you think Daddy feels when you don't want to talk to him?" etc.

If she identifies that you might feel sad, mom asks her why she's doing whatever she's doing at the moment when she knows it makes you feel "------". Listen to the answer; you might learn something valuable, like that she's mad at you for something you do, that she's not trying to hurt you at all, it's just a story she's playing out in her mind, anything is possible here. But listen, because modeling empathy requires that you listen and ponder what is being said. React appropriately and as an adult to the answer(s).

If she says "because I don't love Daddy anymore" (very common for all kids at some age or another), don't react as your inner child. You're an adult. The answer is, "Daddy still loves you and will always love you, but (he) really wants to know why you don't love (him)." It may be minor ("he doesn't let me have chocolate milk at lunch") or serious ("he scares me when he gets mad"). If she comes out with something insightful, the response is praise for being brave enough to identify something so threatening ("scary").

Whatever it is, if it's minor and silly, mom can refuse to interact at times (go ask your father) and not give in to your daughter's newly appreciated power to frustrate or control people in her environment. Everyone wins with this approach: you don't feel marginalized, daughter gets praised for being kinder to you and less demanding of Mommy, and Mom doesn't have to be the sole provider of attention when she's home.

  • Thanks. Her language is a bit behind where it should be (we're not concerned though), so it is possible that she doesn't have the words to express her feelings. She is also fiercely independent and will reject outright help (from everyone, including her mother) so subtle and empowering is probably the way to go. May 12, 2017 at 15:42
  • Having had multiple kids, with one of them going through this phase at the moment I can sympathise with the OP. This answer is spot on though. Don't sweat it and let her know that when she rejects you that it makes you feel sad but you will love her no matter what. My oldest (5) and I now have a very special relationship but there was a time where she wouldn't have anyone but mummy. It's natural.
    – Stephen
    Dec 10, 2019 at 23:53

This is tough because there isn't much to go on. On the surface, it sounds like Mum has to do her share of the discipline -- but that is likely an oversimplification.

You can insist that your daughter speaks to you with respect and courtesy.

  • You model it for starters. (Not saying that you and your wife don't model this -- but it is the first step.) Even when you are angry you model a polite tone and respectful language. Be especially vigilant when you and your spouse argue.
  • You recognise this behaviour as a type of (minor) bullying and help your daughter pass through this stage in a positive way.
  • Build her up. Encourage her, praise her (for real things), remember to tell her that you like her as well as love her.
  • Ask her opinion. Tell her you think she is smart and find ways to show her that she is.
  • Use choosing language to allow her to have more control over her day-to-day activities. Naughtiness often stems from the frustration little people feel when they have no control. You choose the selections but she chooses the final one. (Red or blue shirt. Corn or carrots. Swing or slide.)
  • Don't give orders. Make a rule that everyone in the family tidies up before they do the next activity/ brushes teeth after breakfast -- whatever. Model it (yep you have to tidy as you go, too). You explain this is how everyone in the family helps and works and then you just wait it out until she complies.
  • Stop arguing. Say it once and then wait for it to be done. This is not about safety concerns, or hitting and so on -- just the normal responsibilities. If the wait is too long, the consequence needs to fit. This is impossible for me to predict for you but an example of an unnatural consequence would 'no TV' in response to not brushing her teeth before school hours earlier.
  • If your daughter ignores you and refuses to use respect, redirect. If she is watching TV, turn it off. If she is at the park, take her home. If she is playing, take her out for a walk. It is not done in anger, but it is done without major explanation. ("I am taking you home now.") You explain later, sure -- you are expecting a certain level of courtesy and insisting on it but without anger or argument.

link to Nobullying. com -- about teaching toddlers and young children respect and courtesy

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    Thanks. I didn't want to go overboard in my question with so many details, as then it can become long and hard to follow and borderline rambling. May 12, 2017 at 13:39
  • This seems only to be general parenting advice; I don't really see the OP's specific concern addressed here. May 12, 2017 at 14:44
  • @anongoodnurse He asked how to 1) build respect and 2) get his child to speak to him. 1) I answered: modelling behaviour he wanted, building her up, asking her opinion, giving her choices and redirecting when he did not like the behaviour. 2) I answered: expecting courtesy and respect, modelling it and redirecting poor choices.
    – WRX
    May 12, 2017 at 14:50
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    My reaction was that this is simple bullying and that it should not be accepted by the parents. Both parents must react.
    – user27143
    May 16, 2017 at 14:34

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