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TIME GOES BY

A reader recently raised the question about her twenty-two month old daughter: The little girl would awaken, ask for her Dad, and get upset when Mom comes to her room.

Evidently because Mom is the main caregiver during the day, Dad usually puts her to bed, though sometimes both parents do. Mom commented that it really hurts her feelings that the child gets so upset, and wonders what she can do.

There are several things to consider in this scenario. One is the age of the child. Toddlers are immersed in sorting out their understanding of the world.

Dad seems to be mostly associated with the bedroom routine, and the child may be trying to assert this fact. Toddlers are great creatures of ritual and routine, and she may be trying to make sense out of her perception of routine.

They are also enormously interested in having power over the actions of others, and this may be what she is doing here—getting even more power when she notices that Mom is upset by her response.

Matter-of-fact responses would be helpful in this case, helping the child get started on the out-of-bed routine without attention to the upset.

But the biggest thing to consider is the likely temporary nature of the situation. Children of this age are changing so quickly in their interests, abilities, and development that within a few weeks her attention will probably have moved on to other issues.

Things that seem so important to the child, and therefore the parent, will quickly lose significance. This is where development is our friend, moving children along before minor issues have the chance to grow into major ones.

Unless, that is, we don't interfere with the normal course of development with our own reactions, thereby reinforcing behaviors that would go their own course in short order.

This is why it is always a good idea to begin with our knowledge of developmental tasks and stages in sorting out what might be the underlying cause of behaviors.

The other point that is worth considering is the matter of adult feelings. While parents are not naturally endowed with thicker skins than other humans, we do well not to take personally the actions of our children, especially in the earliest years when there is little or no thought or advance planning involved on their part.

In other words, the child is not setting out to hurt the parent, and it behooves the parent to not complicate the issue by assuming the actions are directed personally at her.

As time goes by, other behaviors will arise that also should be seen through the developmental lens: the four-year-old who yells, "I hate you" when thwarted; the twelve-year-old who finds your very existence to be an embarrassment.

While never easy to take, none of this should be seen as indicative of something personal. Parents are merely the background against which developmental dramas must play out.

So brush up on your developmental knowledge, and remember that time will go by, and things will change faster than you can dream.

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