By Megan Cottrell
You want to be that hands-on, loads-of-fun, boo-boo-kissing superhero in your toddler's life. But even superheroes sometimes slip up! Here, three of the most common mistakes dads make with toddlers—and how you can fix them.
Being too serious
You don't want to sound silly, so when you talk to your toddler, your voice stays grown-up. But kids often respond better to a softer voice, says Harvey Karp, M.D., author of The Happiest Toddler on the Block. “Young children that age are attracted to sing-songy type language,” Karp says. “Men oftentimes are more hesitant to do that, but it makes [children] feel more comforted.”
But it’s not all bad news: Dads shine in one area that's super important for taming tantrums. That’s speaking in toddler-ese, or the short, emphatic sentences that mirror your child's emotions (“You’re angry! You don’t want to leave the park!” or “You want a cookie! You want it so much!”). The mistake dads sometimes make with toddlers comes afterwards, when the stern part is supposed to end and it’s time to soften up (“But we have to go home and eat lunch now,” or “But we can’t have cookies now, we’ll have cookies after dinner.”). “It's important, of course, to set limits, but do it respectfully,” says Karp says. “You're going to win this argument in the end, but you don't have to be the big mean authority figure.”
Coasting through kid-time
Even though you’re exhausted after a long day at work, try not to check out during playtime, says Laura Markham, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids. It’s a common mistake dads make with toddlers, but being present can actually boost dad-child bonding and make playtime more enjoyable.
Instead, “Say to yourself, 'I'm alive for this moment with this unique little person whom I'm blessed to have for a short time,'” Markham suggests. Sure, it sounds a little silly, but the simple shift can transform what seems like drudgery into a special moment. And it will effect how your child behaves, too. “Your child feels your presence and stops being so whiny and demanding and starts cooperating with you more,” Markham says.
Assuming that Mom is #1
Birth, breastfeeding, babyhood--it was all a mommy-fest. But toddlerhood is a whole new ballgame, where kids love what's new. So dad coming home from work is something to anticipate, Karp says.
Does it still seem like your little one only wants mom? Here’s a fun, simple way to change that: Play a game where mom calls to your child, and dad humorously tries to stop the child from making it to her, always getting foiled by the little one's strength or speed, suggests Markham. “After three nights of playing the game, they won't be worried that they're being kept from mommy,” she says. “Instead, they'll be begging for daddy to put them to bed tonight.”