‘Daddy, you are the king, I’m the princess, and Mommy is the cat.’
Sound familiar? Those with three and four year olds have heard these sentiments before, and for parents with older children, they’re easy to recall. These assertive statements coming from a young child can be confusing, challenging, and sometimes even hurtful to parents. After spending all day, night, and week caring for her toddler, it can hurt a mother’s feelings when her daughter refuses her comfort and only ‘Daddy can fix it.’ And conversely, it can be quite demanding for the parent who seems to be the only one who can satisfy their child’s needs. But there is a reason why this is happening, like many of the behaviors we see in young children, this stage is normal and temporary.
Around preschool age, a child’s mind has grown and matured to a point where they are able to notice the nuances in the relationships of the adults in their lives - young children particularly begin to notice that their parents treat each other differently than the way the parents treats them. They notice that their parents have different activities with each other (like going on date nights), or respond and act differently towards each other - essentially parent’s romantic attention towards each other. Although young children become aware of these differences, their minds are still too young to understand what a romantic relationship is: they simply want to have the same close interactions they observe directed towards themselves. We call this developmental stage the ‘romantic phase’.
These requests or demands preferring one parent over the other can sound something like:
•'Mommy, you eat next to me, Daddy, you can sit over there!’
It is understandable that parents’ feelings might be hurt. After all, they want to participate in family activities too, but it is important to remember that your child is young and still maturing. Instead, it is best for the child when parents accept the rejection gracefully, while also expressing that they look forward to a time when they can ‘dance’ too. Confronting your child about their irrational statements “will only hurt their feelings. It will not advance the child’s development.”*
Some alternative responses could be:
•'I like watching you dance! I look forward to dancing with the family too!'
• 'Okay, Mommy will read the bedtime story. It’ll be great to read stories with you another time!'