3 Year Old Missing His Dad

We just moved from Michigan to California 3 months ago. We went from a big house, big yard, to a condo and no yard or swing set. . My husband works all the time and the 1st 4 months we spent without him in Michigan as he came to California first.

Now my 3 year old is having trouble listening to me. He does not want to brush his teeth if I ask. He throws fits and cries. It’s his way or no way and I’m very upset because he only does it with me, not his father.

This morning he had a fit cause I wanted to take his nighttime pull up off and put his underwear on. He said no and my blood went threw the roof. I am constantly fighting with him over simple issues. He is very crabby one minute and loveable the next.


I think this all stems from missing Dad. At this age, when kids cannot reason very well yet and definitely cannot tell time, when a parent is absent it is VERY confusing.

And if that confusion is not clarified the child becomes scared and the #1 defense mechanism for fear is aggression. So the best way to deal with this is help him with his fear of not seeing Daddy again. That is of course is a totally unrealistic fear on the 3 year olds part, but a real one to him.

Kids learn best through play.

So both you and your husband play hide and go seek everyday with him. When Dad hides he says, “I cannot see my little boy, but even though I don’t see his face he will always be my little boy, etc.”.

This helps your son know you both still exist even though he cannot see you. Then go out and buy a bunch of fun looking post cards and have your husband sign them or draw a face on them, etc. and put one in the mailbox each night after your son goes to bed. In the a.m. have him go to mail box and get the card from Dad. This helps the connection keep going while your husband is away.

Then have Dad and him decorate an old shoe box together, call it the “Daddy Box”. Then everyday have your son put the post card in the “Daddy Box” and tell him if he misses Dad just go to the box and look at all the cards.

That way he has a tangible object that he can touch and see that reminds him that Daddy is coming back. When Dad is home have him give your son the exact same greeting every time he says ‘hello’ and ‘good-bye’ (even in the a.m. when he wakes up or says goodnight).

Use something like a high five hello and low-five good-bye. This tells a 3 year old that their parent has to come back because in their minds high five always comes after a low five.

To help with the misbehaviors you see, remember to move closer to him with eye contact, touching and talking when he is not acting out and move away with no eye contact, touching or talking when he acts out. All that information is on “The Child Connection” DVD.

Thanks Dr. Ann. Everything you said made good sense.Lisa