My 3 Year Old Is Being Mean to Her Dad

Updated on March 23, 2010
S.M. asks from New York, NY
14 answers

Okay, so my just turned 3 year old little girl is being mean to her dad. Ex: he will ask for a hug and she will turn and walk away, he asks her to do something and she says no...she picks me over him.

Im wondering what we should do? I try to encourage- ie: go give dad a hug, wow dad- what do you think of the picture she made for you? etc but dad is now getting mad that "she doesnt like him" and she is doing the same thing.

Dad seems to think it is because he is the bigger "discipliner"- in which i have made changes in the past few months- however we dont discipline the same ways and so he is still and always will be harsher than i am.

he has always been in her life, we live together, so on and so forth- i guess im asking what should i do? is this normal? what should i tell dad so he doesnt get upset about it? and how to work on this relationship

If they spend the day together without me (im at work and he sometimes has days off to stay with her and no daycare) - they seem to do really good together- but the second im back in the picture its me over him- and then being mean to him....

thanks in advance,

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answers from Dallas on

I think many kids go through something similar, preferring one over the other, sometimes its the dad they prefer over the mom, and she's the one who feels rejected. But the parent who gets favored has a great deal of power to set the tone to the child, to communicate that this behavior is not acceptable, that we don't disrespect each other that way, no matter WHO it is, that you are not allowed to behave like that. Maybe even, impose some consequences when she does it, something that costs her and has an impact. What she's doing is a form of manipulation, trying to cement things with the favored parent, and maybe as you have noted, reacting to the difference in discipline styles, "punish" the unfavored parent. You two must present a united front and be very consistent about it; this is a form of testing. I suspect that, eventually, regardless of what you do, she will outgrow it, but in the meantime, teach that rudeness or disobedience is NOT going to be tolerated, no matter who it is directed at.

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answers from Kansas City on

some of this will always just "be". my son always prefers me over my husband, that's just the relationship i have with my son. but a couple things can help - one, the two of you have to be on the same page for discipline. you must back each other up. if he asks her to do something and she says no, that wouldn't fly in my house. why is he not insisting she do what she's told? why aren't you? as far as the affection, you can't force that, but in our house, we play up how sad daddy is that he didn't get a hug (he makes an exaggerated sad face and pretends to be devastated). i feel it helps my son learn empathy too. it's not about feeling you "have" to give affection, it's just understanding that when you aren't loving it can hurt peoples' feelings.

above all, he HAS to respect her feelings. he sounds like my husband, slightly immature and maybe inexperienced with kids. my husband can be kind of childish when my son isn't in the mood for cuddles, then his attitude makes my son want even less to do with him. he has to be the grownup. your daughter can't control her emotions. he has to step up.

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answers from Dallas on

Very much just the age. Tell Dad to try not to take it personally because it's not personal. It's just a matter of time before she will flipflop and he will be the favorite . . . it will cycle.

Also, don't make a big deal about it. The more you and he feed into it by getting upset, the more she'll push. Keep it light.

Hang in there, it does get better!

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answers from Detroit on

Whenever my kids are going through a stage that I find a little frustrating I always think to myself. . .And this too shall pass!!! And it will. In the meantime maybe Dad could make a point of taking your daughter to do something special once a week. Ice cream, lunch, a trip to the toy store. Daddy and daughter time away from the house. It will remind her how special her Dad thinks she is :)


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answers from Dallas on 21/2 year old does the same with daddy....they just prefer mommies because moms spend more time with them ....whenever daddy plays with my son he is very thrilled other than that he prefers to be around me...........n daddy should understand this........hang in there its just the age....

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answers from Honolulu on

That's normal... kids go through phases.
Tell your Husband not to take it personally.... 3 is a hard age and they are becoming more communicative as well as independent. It is a developmental stage.

The book: "Your 3 Year Old" which you can get from Amazon is a great series. It merely explains what a 3 year old is going through. Although written years ago, it is still very informative and pertinent.

A "Dad" is very important in a girl's life... no matter what. But if the Dad is always scolding and punishing... it may in the long run, make the relationship harder. A Dad... should also try and be a soft place to fall for the child/girl. THAT is really important... to build a good relationship, not it being all about "discipline" or scolding. A child/girl, ALSO learns about relationships from the Dad... and her being able to express herself to him, her Dad being an example of what a man is. Not one that a girl has to avoid or think that they are unapproachable. A Dad... has to think down the road... when she becomes a Teen. If a girl knows she can talk with her Dad too... and trust him and that there is respect.... it makes the child more centered. And she won't seek out outside sources for validation or acceptance. Very important. Your Husband had to think about that.

My Dad, always made sure that we could come to him for ANYTHING under the sun. But he "guided" me as a girl, not always judging me or scolding me but "teaching" me what is right/wrong/valued/ what love is etc. Even if I was not "perfect" he ACCEPTED me... for who I was and what I was going through. Not being intimidating. But GUIDING me. I felt valid to him... not just something he was always thinking I was wrong or impertinent.

It is not all about who is the better discipliner or who is the stricter one, or who the child listens to more. Sometimes a child will just do it or not, based on fear. That is not what teaches a child, the best.

Teach your girl about feelings AND how to express it. Teach her the words for how she feels. ie: happy, sad, mad, angry, frustrated etc. And that she CAN tell you both. And that, even if she is grumpy... she can tell you and you are all a TEAM about it... and will help her... and that's what a FAMILY is... that you all help each other... and try to be nice. That you both lover her and it is NOT a "competition" because of her.
I ALWAYS tell me kids, that it is okay to be upset... but that we talk about it. Sometimes when my Husband scolds my daughter for example, and she is upset... I listen to WHY she is upset... and sometimes, my Hubby is wrong. BECAUSE he assumed something about her that was not correct... he didn't give her a chance to explain her actions. And then so I take her hand and we ALL talk about it, I help my daughter to "explain" to my Husband why she has hurt feelings... that he scolded her but she thought he meant something else.

I teach my kids, that THEY have a voice too... and they can express themselves to us, and that together, we will help navigate them.
BECAUSE at this age although we have to teach them about "life"... they at 3 years old are not grown up, and they are NOT perfect, and they are going through lots of misunderstandings too... and if they choose Mommy over Daddy... they are flexing their "ability" to feel... and kids do feel more cozy with Mommy.
But... in their time together.. have your Husband do things that your daughter enjoys... not always him telling her what to do or get lectured or scolded for everything. I think, maybe your Husband feels "discipline" is more important... than nurturing a RELATIONSHIP with a daughter. That is a big difference. And when you are back in the picture, it is not that she doesn't like him... it is just that she probably missed you. But teach her, that Daddy gets hurt feelings too.... and it is not nice to dis him. And teach her that it makes Daddy sad.

Tell your Husband, the more he gets mad at her for this... the more it will hurt their relationship and it should NOT be a competition. HE is the grown-up... not the child.

My Husband went through that too... with our kids. But my kids just feel I understand them better... my daughter actually told me that. So my Husband makes an effort to understand his daughter... as a Man... and then she feels better about him. He even brushes her hair and even paints her fingernails and lets her put make-up on him, and does girly things with her... they spend time just talking about stuff and he lets her tell him about HOW she feels instead of always "correcting" her every thought and feelings. THAT has helped a ton. And so now, she actually feels close to him, too. He has to soften up... I told him she is a girl... she is tender-hearted and NEEDS you too, so let her need you....
They actually have a great relationship... and she goes to him with problems too... which is what you want for a Daughter and Dad. He actually listens to her... to learn about her, too.

Encourage your Husband, to NOT take it personally... but rather, how to see his girl for the little girl she is. Being 'harsh' with her will only dismantle the closeness.
Little girls need and love their Dads too... it is NOT about being tough with her.

If a child always sees that their parents are competing about who is "better" or not, about discipline or not... its not good for any child. Then it becomes about what the parents need... NOT the child.
All the best,

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answers from Dallas on

You need to be on the same page when it comes to discipline - meet in the middle, do something but you must both discipline the same. Also, when she treats her dad that way you need to be the one to correct her. Think how you would want your husband to react if she were treating you this way - you would want him to reinforce with "don't treat mommy that way, she loves you" - so do the same for him. You both need to have a united front or the child will see "holes in the armour" and take over.



answers from Dallas on

Sounds completely normal to me. Kids have a favorite parent now and then and this won't be the last time this happens. Of course your daughter is going to choose the parent who isn't as much of a disciplinarian. If you were 3, wouldn't you? My husband and I are much the same- he isn't much of a disciplinarian and I like the rules followed and will enforce consequences when they are not. Our 2 1/2 year old loves me, but will often chose his dad because he knows mom means business. With our first son, I thought I had done something wrong and felt terrible, but now that I've been through it, it doesn't really bother me anymore. Now when my kids are sick or hurt, they usually only want mommy and my husband understands that, but I'm sure it gets to him at times, too. We are the grownups and kids are still trying to figure it all out. Just do what you're doing and your daughter will come around. Getting angry is only going to make your daughter turn away from him more. Just help your husband realize it is a stage and he needs to be a positive role model instead of getting angry. Good luck!



answers from Dallas on

Hi Bethany,
I also have a 3 yrs old girl who sees her Dad less than she sees me, I am a SAHM and he is a traveler Dad, but she seems to favor him and he is the "best Dad ever". I just believe that going through those terrible 2 or 3 yrs kids tend to have those unexplain behaviors. My husband does not really have the time to shop for our children, but everything that I buy, according to her, it is from Daddy. So, I personally thinks that you should not really make it a big deal. She will get back to him very soon.
I would also emphasize that you should not contradict yourselves, you the parents as far as disciplining her. I am a hardliner in some areas (cleaning the mess, good manners, TV) while my spouse is tuffer in others (praying, washing the hands, etc); but once one parent has given the ton, we just stick by it, we do not give different signals because kids can play their parents if they do not play the same game. If my husband says no, I will say the same thing even if I will try to convince him to reduce the punishment, but I will not do it myself, he will be the one to reduce it. Once the kids undersatnd why he/she has been punished, the "neutral parent" will talk to the kid and ask him/her to apologize to the other parent. If the punishment is to harsh for the offense, the parents will discuss it, in private, but no argument in front of the children.
I hope this will help a little bit, a 3 yrs old girl is still a very young child, she is just learning to be herself.



answers from Dallas on

My son does the same thing with me. When his Dad is around he is mean to me etc. Just ignore it. She is wanting Daddy to beg her for her attention. She'll come around. My son is 4 1/2 and it's starting to subside. Tell him not to take it personally... just kid games. (Although it's hard, it makes me sad a lot) They're amazingly manipulative at this age.



answers from Dallas on

This is very typical behavior. There are times when my 3 year old daughter picks her daddy over me, and vice versa. And she can be almost mean to her 10 year old sister who absolutely adores her and always wants to play with her, yet my 3 year old will constantly reject her. It is an independence thing . . . she's learning that she has control over certain things, and the ability to say "yes" or "no" to something is empowering. And I am by far the bigger disciplinarian (my husband is a pushover) so I don't think that has to do with it. Tell your husband not to be offended, and both of you should try not to make a big deal out of it . . . if she sees she's getting a reaction (good or bad) it will encourage her to continue the behavior. Only when her behavior is mean (like how she can be with her big sister) do I discipline her, because it is OK to say no but it is not OK to be mean.



answers from Dallas on

We went through this also. My husband and I made a conscious effort to be a team. I supported his discipline completely( which it sounds like you are doing), we also didn't openly discuss it in front of her, didn't draw attention to it. But we made little changes, moved her carseat so that daddy was getting her in and out of the car, she sat next to him at dinner and basically we made him the closest, primary parent in little ways, if she balked and insisted on having me at those moments then it was a discipline issue, but it rarely was. It wasn't anything drastic she still had mommy moments but things were more equal. Eventually she became comfortable with him and now she adores him. At age 9 she doesn't remember that time and is frankly shocked when we tell her about it.


answers from Dallas on

The problem appears to be you. If you don't support his discipline, if you undermine him in front of her, if you baby her after he has scolded her, then she has learned that she can get her way from Mom, and Dad is just a poopy-head. I have had this problem too. I tend to want to rescue my kids when Dad is disciplining them, but I have to constantly remind myself that that is not what is best for my children. Parents need to be a team, a united front, always, and always consistent. She will come around. She is learning how to manipulate!! Welcome to the threes!!



answers from San Francisco on

No offence here but, does she learn this from you? I know that when I don't think my two 3 1/2 year olds are watching and listening they really are. I told my husband to shut up once, and one of my girls said it to him the next day. Maybe without knowing it you may have been less than nice to your husband and she picked up on it. (I'm trying to say this as nice as possible without accusing you) Possibly, just try and take extra notice of how you are talking and acting, even when you think she's not paying attention. She is learning how to be a wife and mother from you.

Or maybe she has noticed division on matters of discipline? We have a rule, that one parent ALWAYS backs the other on discipline even if they don't agree. Later when the child is not around we can talk to eachother about our disagreement with a particular thing. We will NEVER do this in front of the children. You do not want your child to think there is a kink in the chain. Husband's and wives need to be a strong team when it comes to discipline. Fathers tend to be a little more harsher with punishments and disipline. I think this is natural. Moms are a little more compassionate and caring. The children came from our bodies, it's a little different. However this is not a bad thing at all. My husband is stricter than me and a lot of times the kids will try and manipulate me, but I've got their number. Children respect a parent more when they are consistant with discipline. They will respect the weak and wishy washy parent less.

Our children are NEVER allowed to be mean or rude to anyone. This is automatic cause for time out or losing something they value. This is not okay. Ever. And, a child should obey immediately. They should never be allowed not to listen. This actually could be dangerous. They need to have respect for their parents or they will become nightmares.

A lot of times my kids would rather have me hold them or cuddle them. Again, there is a different bond between mother and child. But they would not be allowed to be mean to their dad under any circumstance. And vice versa.

I hope you didn't take this harsly. It wasn't meant to be.

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