Our daughter just turned 2 in May. My wife and I haven't really had that many issues with her, but recently she's being odd.

Every time I go to give her a hug, cuddle or kiss she either pulls away or tells me no. She's no longer saying goodnight or goodbye when I go to work and generally doesn't seem to care all that much if I exist at the minute.

It's only been happening a couple of days but I'm pretty worried about it more so because I can feel that I'm withdrawing away from her as well in a 'fine, go to nanas then (when they left to visit this morning) - I don't need to say goodbye type thing' - which is ridiculous I know but it's difficult to break the thought pattern.

I've ordered a couple of books to better understand and have done some reading and I know she's not doing it simply to cause me grief but I just...is there light at the end of the tunnel? Will this pass? Can anyone lend advice on how to best deal with it.

It doesn't help that our last real interaction was me telling her off and then pretty much yelling at her to not climb the stairs by herself - I found her halfway up them, shit myself and let emotions rule the voice that should've said she shouldn't go up them alone.

  • How old exactly is she? She's behaving like that just towards you, her father, not her mother? – Anne Daunted Aug 7 at 13:04
  • @AnneDaunted she turned 2 in May - just me, loving Mum at the minute. – null Aug 7 at 13:27
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    Important details: did you apologize to her for shitting yourself/yelling at her? How did she respond to that? Did her behavior start before that, or after? Have you done this before? – anongoodnurse Aug 7 at 15:14
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    Did you and your wife had a fight which your toddler noticed? Sometimes kids think they have to choose sides. – lalala Aug 7 at 17:29
up vote 10 down vote accepted

...[she] generally doesn't seem to care all that much if I exist at the minute.

Those last three words... at the minute. At the moment. Right now. However you say it, this is temporary (for now. This can change.)

This may just be a phase. If so, it will pass. But it might be a result of your actions on the stairs.

As @David Thornley stated, you're the adult in this relationship. I'm not going to tell you that your feelings aren't acceptable. Feelings are feelings, and we have them. Whether they're acceptable or not doesn't really matter; what matters is how we deal with them.

Toddlers/2 year olds more or less wear their feelings on their sleeves. They aren't good yet at hiding them or maintaining a sophisticated pretense.* So, yes, right now - for the moment - your daughter has withdrawn from you to a degree for some reason she probably can't express. And you're feeling hurt.

What to do? Accept that your daughter's feelings are as valid as your own, and know that they are based on the understanding and reasoning capacity of a 2 year old. While an adult might understand that you losing your shit (as you say) is due to fear/stress/being overwhelmed, a 2 year old doesn't. If this episode immediately preceded her change towards you, you can safely chalk it up to that.

She is a small child wholly dependent on your wife and you for everything, including her feelings of safety and being loved. Depending on how you behaved (I'll assume the worst), she may have felt fearful and in danger from you (not the stairs or the situation, as you were.) You scared her. She's not odd for withdrawing to the safety of the parent who (at the moment) is "safer" to her.

Your responsibility now is to make her feel safe again with you. The trust you had before will take a bit of time to rebuild, but 2 year olds are pretty forgiving. It's probably too late to apologize to her now, but be consistently kind, loving, patient, and respectful with her, and she'll come around.

...is there light at the end of the tunnel? Will this pass? Can anyone lend advice on how to best deal with it.

Yes, I guarantee you that if you are consistently kind, patient, loving and respectful towards her, she will love you again as much as she did before. And, if your wife angers/frustrates/frightens her enough, she will probably prefer your company over your wife's.

*They can and do pretend, though. Just not for long periods, i.e. hours or days.

N.B. I'm assuming you became angry on the stairs; please ignore if that was not the case. To elaborate a bit so you can understand how valid her feelings are: in a moment of fear, you made her responsible for feelings you found difficult to handle. Fear is a primary emotion. It's painful and hard to handle, so it often quickly changes to an emotion which is easier to deal with: anger. Anger is outwardly directed, so easier for a person to handle, but it is viewed as a threatening behavior by viewers, especially when the angry person is looking directly at the viewer.

Witnessing fear does not do the same thing to the viewer, nor does witnessing anger while the gaze is averted. While it might still frighten your daughter to read fear on your face, it's not nearly as frightening as expressions of anger directed towards her. Fear can actually draw a person closer (you become fearful together).

Imagine the difference in reactions to a toddler (or a child) in the following scenario(s): a child runs into a street with traffic. Scared out of your wits, you run out and grab them. You a) shout at them angrily, saying, "Why did you do that, don't you know how dangerous that is? Don't ever do that again!", or b) you hug them, say, "Thank God you're safe! Please, don't ever do that again, I would be so sad if you got hurt!" or c) shout at them angrily, saying, "Why did you do that, don't you know how dangerous that is? Don't ever do that again!" then immediately apologize, saying, "I'm so sorry! I know you didn't do that to scare me. I'm sorry I got mad. I was wrong to get mad. I love you, and don't want to lose you."

The differences matter. Strive for the second. But if you must get angry, shout at the stairs, not her (Damn stairs! Why are you here?) So what if you feel stupid doing so? Her feelings come first. And never be slow to apologize.

The informative value of emotional expressions: ‘social referencing’ in mother–child pretense
The Effects of Fear and Anger Facial Expressions on Approach- and Avoidance-Related Behaviors.
Effects of Gaze on Amygdala Sensitivity to Anger and Fear Faces

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    Thank you so much for taking the time to not come across as judgy. Everything you say makes perfect sense, thank you. What you say about the expression on my face is quite informative. – null Aug 7 at 20:37
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    @null - We've all been there. Thanks for taking it in the spirit it was given. – anongoodnurse Aug 7 at 21:23
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    just a quick follow up :) Yesterday was awesome, she's happy I exist again and had a great day. Even though I strongly regret how I acted it has helped us to understand how to act going forward and your answer has helped a great deal, thank you again :D – null Aug 9 at 8:14
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    @null - I'm so happy to hear that! :D These little upsets are hard while we're going through them, but they are temporary. We've all been there. And we're here for any other questions you might have. – anongoodnurse Aug 9 at 11:40

As far as your daughter goes, she's a toddler. Toddlers get strange things into their heads sometimes. They also sometimes try things to see what happens, or to see if they can do them. She may well be trying out some independence or personal agency. I see no reason to worry about her.

You, on the other hand, have some problems. You should not have blown up at your daughter, which you understand. What's more frightening is that you find yourself drawing back from your daughter because of her erratic behavior. A couple of days and you have a bad reaction.

There needs to be an adult in a parent-child relationship, and right now you're not being real successful at adulting. You need to understand fully that your daughter will be emotional, overreact, go through phases, and get angry at you, among other things. It's your job to provide the calm, the rationality, and the consistency.

I don't really know the best way for you to do better, but there's got to be someone else you can talk to. You could find a father of a somewhat older daughter, who will know more how being the father of a toddler should work.

  • Cheers for taken the time to share your opinion. – null Aug 7 at 20:37
  • why would you assume it's the father? Also she said in comments it's the mother. – SomeRandomName Aug 14 at 11:56

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