Kids under the age of two are special kinds of tiny humans. One minute they are warm, snuggly, and loving. The next thing we know, they are laying on the floor screaming because they somehow managed to open a locked cabinet, only to find out that they are not allowed to drink the Clorox they found. Life with a kiddo (or two, or three) under two is nothing short of an adventure.
The reasons for toddler cries reach far beyond the not-being-allowed-to-poison-themselves moments. Sometimes, their tears come because the bath water is too warm, the pillow is facing the wrong way, or simply because they are wearing the blue shirt but they wanted yellow. Every moment and every decision a parent makes, on behalf of a toddler, runs the risk of an epic meltdown. In the end, most parents make the decision to tread lightly and pick their battles.
Sometimes, though, moms and dads will pick all the battles they want to pursue, only to realize it’s a losing game when their toddler wants one of them- and only one of them. Parents can only ignore a toddler standing at their feet, hugging their legs, and crying to be picked up, for so long. Parents can tread as lightly as they’d like, but that likely won’t stop their kid from yelling for one of them over the yellow cup they wanted.
There’s no tagging out when a toddler plays favorites, and it’s a pretty big risk to decide this is the battle to fight. These moments happen for all kinds of reasons, but many can be identified before, or a millisecond after, the trigger comes.
20 For Mom: She Left The Room - Where'd She Go?!
When mom steps out of a room and out of her kid’s sight, suddenly the child develops what seems like a very intense abandonment issue. When mom comes back, the toddler in question will calm down, and it is as though mom had never left the room in the first place.
This is when moms typically start thinking of Regina George’s famous line, “why are you so obsessed with me?”
While these moments can make moms borderline-crazy, there is an actual reason for them. When children see their parents leave the room, they can get overwhelmed with separation anxiety, which is what causes the outburst. According to Parents Magazine, toddlers are still too little to understand the concept of time. This essentially means that for them, there is no difference between four hours and four minutes. So, when a mom walks out of the room, they see their primary caregiver walking away and leaving them alone and they panic because they have no idea when she will be back, if at all. This is scary and sad for kids, so they act out and cry for mom.
The good news, though, is that for most kids this is a phase and, as their brains develop, the outbursts will lessen. By the time that toddler goes off to college, chances are good mom won’t have to peel him off her legs as she’s trying to leave; no promise it won’t be the other way around, though.
19 For Dad: I've Been Stuck With Mom All Day
Just like adults don’t like to do the same thing all day long, toddlers don’t like to be with the same person all day long. It’s nothing against whoever they are with, it’s just that they require constant stimulation and, let’s be honest, one adult can rarely do the job well.
With the exception of strangers, toddlers are thrilled when someone new comes to play because it's a change of pace. So, when a toddler is home all day with mom (who is right alongside him counting down the minutes until dad gets home) and that garage door opens and he realizes who is about to walk in the door, he’s crying for daddy.
This can sometimes make moms feel unappreciated for their efforts, but that’s not the case. Toddlers love playing on the floor for hours and all the other fun things they get to do while dad’s away. However, they would also love to do those things with a variety of people, not just mom.
So, whether a mom is at home alone with her toddler five days a week, or it’s a weekend where dad has plans, it doesn’t matter how often the toddler gets an extended period of time with mom. He will be excited to see a different (but familiar) face because it’s an opportunity for more fun.
18 For Mom: There’s A Stranger - Save Me!
Ever met a baby for the first time and was convinced your face scared them because they won’t stop crying? You were probably right.
Babies’ sight develops overtime during their first few months of life. They often know mom and dad primarily by their voices, and the human-shaped-blurs they can make out. This is why newborns rarely cry when they are being held by a stranger. According to The Wonder Weeks, at around seven months, babies can see fully and start to understand the concept of space. So, naturally, when Great Aunt Sally takes a baby away from his mom, the baby can see that there is more and more distance between him and his mom, and he does not care for it. This is the early stage of separation anxiety.
Usually, the more a baby is around someone, the less this is an issue. One way to help combat this is by showing the baby, and toddlers, pictures of relatives they don’t see very much and setting up video chats (just watch that home-screen button on your tablet, it’s a magnet for grimy fingers).
Kids, just like adults, need time to get to know someone to feel safe and secure, until then it’s mom or bust.
17 For Dad: Mom Said No
Remember when you were a kid and you had to ask your parents permission for something? Chances are good that you acted strategically in those moments. If you wanted a later curfew for prom, you asked dad. If you wanted some new clothes, you asked mom. Every time there was something you wanted, you likely thought hard about who you’d go to. Essentially, you used your experience and wisdom to ask the parent most likely to give you the answer you wanted.
Toddlers have no such wisdom.
One thing is for sure, though, even at a young age, toddlers do know how to pin their parents against each other. As soon as mom says no to the fruit snacks (or, whatever it is), that toddler is already crying and calling for daddy, and working his magic to get those fruit snacks. He’s probably thinking “someone will have to give in to this cute little face of mine!”
This doesn’t mean that dad’s a pushover. In fact, dad can stand firm and have a united front with mom, but that toddler is still going to try.
And, in those moments, parents will see a glimpse of the rest of their lives with the little one doing whatever he can to get what he wants.
16 For Mom: Who's That Baby You're Holding?
Whether it’s a new baby brother or a close friend’s newborn, if a toddler sees his mom loving on someone else, he will not be happy about it. Sharing toys is nothing compared to sharing the Almighty Mom.
A toddler will get jealous of mom holding a new baby simply because that is his mom, and he believes there’s only so much of mom to go around. He may act out in the form of a tantrum, he may cry for mom, or he may physically try to push the baby away so he can snuggle in on mom instead. It all boils down to the security of having mom there for him. If he’s sitting there beside her (or, likely on her), then he feels safe and like she can’t leave.
Of course, there are things moms can do to help alleviate these acts of jealousy, especially if the baby is a new sibling. But, as the saying goes, “this too shall pass.” This is another phase kids go through simply because they are not developed enough to understand that there is enough love to go around and that loving on one baby does not mean that mom can’t still love on them. Toddlers will slowly realize this the same way they learn to share their toys.
15 For Dad: Mom’s Ignoring The Tantrum
Every mom has been there. Her toddler wants to sit on her lap on the couch, then she doesn't, then she does again, then she doesn’t. This goes on for a solid five minutes before mom finally gives up and asks her daughter to pick one or the other. The toddler asks to sit on the couch, then immediately wants to get down. Mom says no about three seconds later, and the storm begins.
Any toddler mom knows there are a variety of ways to handle the tantrum, but logic and a thoughtful conversation are not one of them. Oftentimes, toddlers want an audience for their outbursts. So, if mom walks away and ignores it, all of a sudden, the yells for dad start (this is typically when mom smirks a little bit because she’s off the hook).
When a toddler is calling for dad, it is not because she actually wants dad because she hates mom, it’s because she wants someone there to pay attention to her. Mom walking away during a tantrum is the equivalent to mom watching The Bachelor instead of coloring with her toddler.
Toddlers want to steal the show, so if it’s not the mom who will watch, then the calls for dad won’t be far behind.
14 For Mom: A Boogie Or A Boo Boo, We Want Mom!
At a certain point, kids snuggle on their parents less and less. It’s hard to tell if it happens in one big swoop or gradually. But to moms, it feels like one night she’s rocking her little girl to sleep and the next her toddler is pointing to her bed asking to be put down. Once that happens, the cuddles continue to become less and less.
That is until she is sick or has hurt herself.
No mom wants to see her baby sick, but there is some sweetness to those little viral germs; a sick toddler is a snuggly toddler and a sick toddler only wants mommy. So, when mom sees that “I’m sick” look on her toddler’s face, she knows she will get to stock up on all those snuggles while her daughter feels comforted knowing moms there. It’s a win-win in an unfortunate situation.
Simply put, moms are a human security blanket for their kids and they ultimately want her to make it all better when something’s wrong. Try as he might, dad simply doesn’t have that same touch mom does, so the toddler calls for mom and doesn’t want her to leave; which is fine because chances are good that mom doesn’t want to leave anyway.
Soak it up, mama. Soak it up.
13 For Dad: She’s A Daddy’s Girl
Have you ever gone to a wedding and watched the dad give his daughter away, and could practically feel the bittersweet sadness each of them felt in that moment? That woman was a daddy’s girl.
According to Psychology Today, a father plays a significant role in the development of his daughter and there is a distinguishable difference between grown women whose fathers were present in their lives and those whose were not. This starts in the earliest days of childhood. Dad’s relationship with his daughter helps develop her self-esteem, sense of worth, and future relationships down the road.
Additionally, a recent article by Motherly points out that dads’ brain responses are actually different when he is interacting with his daughter than he does with his son. The study goes on to point out that dads tend to sing to daughters more, talk more about emotions, and even show a significantly increased response in their brains to their daughter’s happy face than their son’s.
That bond is science. Just like moms have an intuition and are programmed to be caregivers, dads have a program all their own when they have a little girl to protect and that little girl will cry for him and “choose” him more often because of the sense of security he gives her.
12 For Mom: He Wants Something He Can’t Communicate
For some reason, dads got the “Superhero” title when it comes to parenting. They get all the glory because they can fix toys, fly a 30+lb kid in the air, and carry kiddos on their shoulders.
But mom? Mom is the one who can communicate with a toddler who has a 15-word vocabulary. If that’s not a superpower, then really, what is?
Toddlers know to cry for mom when there is something they want. If you put an apple on their plate and they wanted a banana, they call for mom because she can figure out the problem. If there is a toy just a little too high to reach, suddenly, “maaaaaahhhhmmmmm” can be heard from the playroom.
Biological moms form a bond with their baby long before dad has the opportunity, and there is something to the mom intuition thing. So, while dad may be able to translate the jibberish too, toddlers often know that mom can do it faster. The faster the translation, the faster they get what they want.
11 For Dad: He Just Needs a Big Hug
After a long day of work, or a long day with the kids, or whatever it is that mom productively did, sometimes she just wants dad to come home and give her a really long hug to help make her feel better. The partnership between mom and dad is rooted in something far beyond their toddler, and sometimes, his hug is the only thing that will calm her nerves after a hard day.
The same is true for that sweet and salty little toddler.
Just like there is no love like a mother’s love, there is no hug like a dad’s hug. Dad’s relationship with mom may be rooted in something different, but his relationship with his toddler is rooted in love and provided by safety and security. By the age of two, a toddler already knows the power of his dad’s hugs. He knows he feels loved in either of his parents' arms, but there is something about the way dad envelops him that just makes things feel a little better. It must be those muscles that offer a sense of protection as if Superman himself were hugging a toddler. (Personally, I'd choose Wolverwine, because, let's face it- who wouldn't want Hugh Jackman hugging her?)
Mom gives all the kisses and snuggles, but dad wins when it comes to the “make it all better” hug.
10 For Mom: It’s Nap Time, Put Me To Sleep!
One minute, an 18-month-old is having dinner and playing, then the next he is throwing his plate on the floor. Mom picks him up and puts him on the floor and he begins to act clumsy, grouchy, and his eyes are starting to seem heavy.
Time for bed!
This is usually about the time that he will start wanting mom and only mom. If he stumbles while walking because he’s so tired, he will cry for mom. If he is fighting the good fight while changing into pajamas, he will cry for mom, even if she’s the one changing him. There’s little logic to this, of course, but mom will get the brunt of it.
Just when mom sits on the couch with the monitor (and maybe a glass of wine), she’ll hear the lovely sound of her toddler crying “mom”, once again. Sometimes he’ll go back to sleep on his own, sometimes he won’t and she will have to go up there and he will want water, or a snack, or another story, or tucked back in, or all of the above.
Whether he’s pushing back bedtime to its very limit or he’s unhappy about going down for a nap, he’s calling for mom to help. This could be for a number of reasons, maybe he associates mom with sleep from all those nights rocking in her arms and drifting off, maybe he misses her, or maybe he just knows who will take all the snuggles she can get and is using it to his advantage. He knows mom will come, though, and she will likely give him one more lullaby before she goes.
9 For Dad: Dad’s Left For Work
Similarly to when mom steps out of the room when dad leaves for work there will be an epic meltdown. As babies grow up, they start to recognize patterns and routines. For example, they start to see that first there is the toothbrush, then there is toothpaste, then it’s time to start brushing teeth. There is a pattern to this and it is the same every time.
So, when dad is in a tie and putting on his shoes near the front door, the toddler knows what’s next: dad’s leaving. As mentioned before, that toddler has no concept of time, so he has no idea when or if dad will be back. He just knows that dad’s about to leave, which is heartbreaking. He will then run to dad, reach up to him, and cry for him because he doesn’t want him to go to work today (or, any day, really).
If he watches dad’s car drive away, this can make it worse because he’s seeing the spatial distance increase more and more. Yes, the crying will subside and within a few minutes he’ll be watching Peppa Pig and all will be well again, but for those moments mom doesn’t matter, they only want dad.
8 For Mom: I'm The Business You Must Attend To
Ever had a sick kid and decided to work from home instead of taking PTO? How’d that go for you?
Moms trying to work, browse the news, online shop, or even video chat with their own mother - with a toddler in the room is a harder balancing act than the whole work/life thing. Not only is mom playing on something bright and shiny with lots of buttons the kiddo can’t touch, but she is paying more attention to it than to the toddler. The toddler will have none of this.
The quickest way to get your baby’s attention is to ignore her. Toddlers love an audience. Think about it, when she’s throwing a fit, if mom leaves the room, the tantrum typically stops because there’s no one there to witness it. So, if she’s simply playing on the floor and looks up and sees mom on her phone, she wants mom’s attention, and she wants the phone.
Just like how a mom can’t have a candy bar without having to share, she also can’t simply do her work without having to let itty bitty fingers press all the keys on the keyboard, several times over. As with all the other jealousy issues, this is a phase and someday mom will be able to shop online in peace again, until then, it will likely have to wait until naptime or bedtime.
7 For Dad: Mom Is Brushing Her Knotty Hair
If a baby or toddler has hair, particularly a lot of it, mom has likely fought the good fight in trying to comb through it. How these tiny humans manage to get all of their food, dirt, and play-dough throughout their locks is a mystery, but it happens day after day. Even if their hair is up in a ponytail, by the end of the day, there is still something disgusting in there that needs to be washed and brushed out.
This is one of those battles moms don’t want to pick, but since hygiene is important, she prepares for war.
Meanwhile, daddy is sitting there watching this all go down. It’s no wonder the toddler is screaming for him and trying to wiggle out of his mom's arms. She’s probably reaching for him as if he is the only one who can save her from this dramatic event. It’s also likely that mom is communicating with dad as well, less so with cries and more with a “can you please help me” look. Unfortunately, your toddler’s plea is louder.
Whether it’s hair brushing, nail clipping, teeth brushing, diaper changing, or another unpleasant form of hygiene, that toddler is always going to want to wiggle out and call for backup from dad.
6 For Mom: I'm Not Going To Feed Myself, Now Am I?
The word “hangry” is used a lot by adults. “Oh, sorry I was so mean before we went out to dinner, I was ‘hangry’”. For those who don’t know (where have you been for the last ten years?) hangry is a hybrid of hungry and angry. When you’re so hungry that you are mean, and then once you have food in you, you’re suddenly pleasant to be around again.
This must be an innate emotion in humans, though, because there is no hangry quite like that of a toddler. While a toddler will yell at just about anyone when he’s hungry, he associates mom with food. Whether she breastfed, pumped/bottle fed, or formula/bottle fed, chances are good that mom was the one who fed him the most during his early days. Not to mention, she fed him the whole time he was in her belly.
Dads can be a total 50/50 partner (or, even more!) but there is still the human nature aspect/relationship of mother and child. She is his primary source of survival. So, when he’s hungry, he’s going to call for her if she’s available. (Note: “available” to a toddler means if she is present in the home, whether that’s in the kitchen or in the shower).
Much like how a dog stares out the window, longingly, when his owner is outside, so does a toddler. If dad is outside mowing the lawn, a time it may not be safe for his little daughter to be playing outside, but she can see him out there and can’t touch him, there will be an outburst.
This is essentially like taunting the child with a lollipop she can’t have or a button she can’t push. It’s there, it's in front of her, she’s not allowed to partake it in, and she’s mad.
According to Optimal.org, children have the human instinct and desire for free will but lack the understanding. So not only is one of the toddler’s favorite people outside without her, she’s angry because she’s not allowed to go outside too. Someone else is making a decision for her and she does not like it.
And, because she can’t explain how she feels or why she feels this way, she simply screams his name hoping he will swoop in and bring her outside with him.
4 For Mom: I Had A Bad Dream
There are few things that can stop a mom’s heart, for example, the screeching sound of her kid crying for her out of nowhere in the middle of the night. One minute she’s fast asleep and the next the monitor isn’t even necessary because the scream can be heard from the other end of the neighborhood. She will jump out of bed and run to her daughter's room to see her sitting up reaching for her, or fast asleep again.
She had a bad dream.
According to The Baby Sleep Site, bad dreams tend to start for kids around 18 months, however, they may start earlier. But, since younger babies have limited to no vocabulary, it’s hard to tell if it was a night terror or hunger that woke them up.
When the vocabulary has developed, though, it will likely be the mom she cries out for. As previously mentioned, mom is her safety net and that will be who she wants to scoop her up and save her from whatever it was that threatened her. As the years' pass, dad will be fair game too, but in the early days, it will be Mom to the rescue!
For some reason, dads often get the “fun parent” role. Whether it is evolution, instinct, or just because moms are utterly exhausted, when a kiddo wants to be thrown around and played with, the calls for daddy start.
At the pool, kids want mom to “watch” and “look at this!”, while they want dad to throw them in the air or hang on to his shoulders while he swims around like a dolphin. It’s not that mom can’t do these things, it's that dad seems to do them better.
While this is a gender-role generalization, it is still common today for mom to be the patient and nurturing one who kids want when they are sick, hurt, tired, hungry, or snuggly. In exchange, they want for dad to be the fun guy who teaches sports, has all kinds of energy to play, and doesn’t mind breaking the rules now and then.
So, moms, this summer, if you’re at the neighborhood pool and your toddler only wants daddy, the best thing to do is to accept defeat, leave the kiddie pool, and lounge in the sun for a bit. It’s what your child wants, after all.
2 For Mom: He Just Woke Up And Needs A Cuddle
Translation: Good morning, mom. It’s 5 am and I’m ready to wake up for the day!
For a mom, it doesn’t get much better than when her baby learns to say her name and begins to call for her the minute he wakes up. While she may not be ready to wake up for the day, once she drags herself out of bed and answers her baby’s call, she is greeted with a big smile and arms reaching out for her.
This is the good stuff of motherhood.
Rarely is it that a toddler is calling out for daddy in the morning. Even better, once he’s awake and calling for mama, he will need a little more time to actually wake up, which typically means he wants to snuggle on mom while he adjusts to the lights and the day ahead.
In these moments, it doesn’t take long for mom to forget her desire for extra sleep. These snuggles are just for her, they are one of the little rewards she gets for carrying that baby for months. This is one of the rare times her baby will cry for her and his mood will only improve as he slowly wakes up and realizes he gets another day with mom.
This is one of the times dad wants his kid to call for him, but don’t give it up, mama, it doesn’t last nearly long enough.
Bath time is so much fun. There are bubbles, toys, and water that splashes everywhere. It is like swimming inside in a warm personal pool. It’s the last “hoorah” before bedtime.
Once that drain gets pulled and the water starts receding, toddlers know what it means. Again, they know patterns at this point. So, they know that when bathtime is over that means it’s time for a diaper change, lotion, pajamas, and for the fun to end. That bath drain is to toddlers what “last call” is to the young bar-hoppers.
Naturally, kids want to extend the fun for as long as possible, so that’s when they start pleading for dad. As mentioned earlier, dads are the fun guys who will break the rules from time to time. Toddlers know that if they have any chance of pushing off the daunting bed for a little while longer, it’s going to be a dad who lets them.
This bathtime battle is just another example of the emerging evil-genius who is slowly but surely learning which parent to ask for what. It starts early.
Good luck during the high school years, parents!
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