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Picking a favourite parent

Date

Jane Barry

Q: Do you have any clues on why my two year old doesn't want to have anything to do with his dad? He just wants me to do everything for him. Nothing's happened and his dad is a lovely man.

A: Toddlers can certainly go through phases of wanting to pick and choose their favourite parent. Often, there's no discernible reason why, other than wanting to foist a little power over the home environment and their parents. And it is this yearning to exercise some control and increasing independence, which fuels the majority of toddler behaviour. Problems emerge when they simply want more than is reasonable for them to have. He probably is just going through an age and stage, and with time will be more accepting of his dad's input. But there's too much at stake to just give in to your little one's demands.

Kids benefit enormously from having their fathers involved in their care giving. As the same-gender role model, his dad can teach him things you won't be able to - such as what it means to be a caring male. If your boy learns that protests get him what he wants, then this will only reinforce his behaviour. The answer lies in staying calm, consistent and unyielding when your boy insists on you doing everything for him. Encourage his dad to become involved in everyday nurturing tasks and avoid ''rescuing'' either of them; there is a lot to be said for mothers keeping very much in the background in these situations. Spend some hours out of the house; keep busy doing other things and give them both some space.

Q: What can I do to discourage my preschooler from lying? Often there's no reason for her to be dishonest but it's as if she can't help herself. Is this a sign that she's always going to have trouble telling the truth?

A: No, it's not. Lying is a common characteristic within kids of preschool age, though some do it more than others. Fantasy can feature so strongly in their worlds that at times, even the child can seem to have problems differentiating between fact and fiction. She's likely to outgrow this and face the same challenges and consequences in telling the truth as any other child. Pick your battles and avoid seeing her future as one long march towards being a deceitful adult. Bright kids with vivid imaginations and girls - more so than boys - tend to tell more lies. Sometimes they can be quite funny because what they can say is so obviously untrue. But try not to feed into her little fibs too much and where possible, correct her without humiliation and shame. When she does tell the truth then heap praise on her for being honest. When a child knows they are going to get into trouble but tell the truth anyway, this takes courage. Role model honesty yourself and let her hear you say ''I'm sorry'' when it applies.

Kids who witness their parents acknowledging their own mistakes learn that it's okay to be wrong sometimes. This really helps with adult relationships. Explain to her what telling the truth is; don't assume she automatically knows. Kids who live in families where the rules are too strict and punishment is punitive can tend to lie more. Think about the consequences in your household and consider if you need to cut her some slack.

■ Jane Barry is a registered nurse, midwife and child health nurse. Send questions to parentingadvice@telstra.com. The advice offered is general and not intended as a substitute for professional, individual assessment and guidance.

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