Sara Dimerman

Sara Dimerman is a psychologist and provides counselling to individuals, couples and families. She is one of North America's most trusted parenting and relationship experts and the author of three books: Am I a Normal Parent?, Character is The Key and How Can I Be Your Lover When I'm Too Busy Being Your Mother?: The Answer to Becoming Partners Again. Learn more or listen to advice from Sara and her colleagues by searching for 'helpmesara' podcasts on iTunes or visiting Follow Sara on Twitter @helpmesara.
Dear Dad: A Note on Fathers and Daughters and What It Means to Be a Dad
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Dad. Vader. Baba. Tatay. Papa. Apu. Babbo. Tata. Abba. Babbas. Pai. Pop. 

However you spell it and no matter how you say it, the words all mean the same: Father.

Now that it’s June and Mother’s Day has come and gone, fathers can look forward to their special day. 

The relationship between fathers and their daughters is both special and complicated. Although mothers feel softer and are often seen as the nurturers, there’s something special about snuggling with dad. Something about the strength in his arms, the broadness of his shoulders and the sound of his voice that makes a girl feel safe.

However, by the time she’s ten or eleven, a young girl is likely to create physical distance between her father and herself as she embarks on her journey towards becoming a young woman and feels less comfortable with sitting on his lap, having him stroke her hair and kiss her soft cheek. The pang of rejection is often difficult for a father as he struggles to maintain the same closeness that a young girl will often reserve for her mother. This is the complicated side of being father to a daughter.

However, don’t be fooled into straying too far. Try not to take this personally by realizing that this has nothing to do with you. This is your little girl’s first step towards defining personal boundaries—with men especially. You are the very first man in your daughter’s life and how you respond to her creating this space will send a strong message about having her needs heard and respected. Try to find other ways to remain close. Settle for being able to hold her hand briefly as you cross the street. Relish the moments when she’s tired and rests her head on your shoulders.

If you show her unconditional love and acceptance, if you listen to and respect her needs, she will expect that other men in her life will too. If you show her unconditional love, she will not allow herself to become engaged in relationships with men who love her only if she looks or acts a certain way. If you show her respect, she will expect other boys, and eventually men, to treat her as their equals. She will choose partners who listen to what is important to her, validate her and encourage her to assert herself.

When a young girl takes time for herself, maintains hygiene and cares about her grooming and is acknowledged for doing so by her father, in particular, this will be very meaningful. So, when you say something like, ‘Wow, you’ve cut your hair. I love the way it frames your beautiful face,’ she will glow. When you say ‘You handled yourself so well in that situation. You asserted yourself without being bossy. You expressed your thoughts so clearly,’ she will be thrilled that you have noticed. The way in which a young girl sees herself reflected in her father’s feedback can encourage or discourage her towards becoming a self-confident woman.

As well, the way in which a girl’s father treats her mother—whether they are living together or apart—also creates a template for the way in which she will expect to be treated. If she sees her father care for, respect and speak highly of her mother, this will not only foster even greater love towards her father but will also provide a model for her future relationships.

Biology can help a man become a father, but it takes time, effort and careful intention to be a dad. A dad may have given you life or may have come into your life later on. The person who plays the role of dad may also be dad to your mom. He may even be mom’s brother. Being a dad is a huge responsibility but also an awesome privilege. This Father’s Day, take a few minutes to reflect on the role you want to play in your daughter’s life and the amazing opportunity you have to shape her future.

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Sara Dimerman
May 15, 2015
Sara Dimerman
How to Handle Toddler Tantrums
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Most of the time toddlers are terrific. They’re cute, energetic and fun to be around. But what happens when your toddler expresses anger? Do you try to stomp out the fire as soon as it sparks? What message does that send to your child about their right to express anger?

Let’s say, for example, that your toddler yells at you to ‘leave me alone’ as you try to put their shoes on to go outside, or pulls the cat’s tail when it walks across the puzzle your tot is attempting to put together. Do you tell them to put their angry words away or send them into time out because they’ve hurt another living creature? Or do you remain calm, acknowledge feelings and read between the lines to try to understand the source of the anger?

Here are some things to keep in mind when handling an angry toddler:

  1. Is there a reason for the emotional outburst? Very often, if your toddler is tired, hungry or thirsty, their emotional tone and response will seem disproportionate to the reality of the situation. (Let’s admit, this can be true for adults, too.) If you believe fatigue, hunger or thirst to be the cause of your toddler’s emotional response, simply take steps towards remedying the situation by ignoring the behaviour and planning for an earlier bedtime or providing them with a healthy snack as soon as possible.
  2. Acknowledge their feelings. Anger is as important and healthy an emotion as any other. Holding anger in can be more damaging than letting it out. It’s important to let your toddler know that anger is an acceptable emotion but their behaviour may not be. You can do this by saying something like: ‘I see that you’re angry at the cat for stepping on your puzzle.’
  3. Then, offer suggestions for a change in behaviour next time. For example: ‘Next time you’re angry at the cat for stepping on your puzzle, please ask me to put the cat out of the room. Pulling his tail hurts.’
  4. Ask ‘is this normal?’ Understanding your toddler’s stage of development may help you to normalize the behaviour, or not. Often, a toddler’s desire for increased independence will lead to feelings of anger. Not being able to empathize with others may also lead to anger. Sometimes not having enough words to describe feelings may lead to angry actions instead.
  5. Let your child know how their behaviour affects others and establish limits. ‘When you hit me I feel upset because hitting hurts. It’s okay to feel angry, but next time you hit, I will take you to another part of the room so that you can have some time away from others.’
  6. Do they need your help? If a child is showing frustration in the form of anger, acknowledge their feelings of frustration, then offer assistance. If your child appears out of control, you may want to consider containing their physical and emotional flailing in a loving, comforting way by wrapping your arms around them, putting them on your lap and calming them through soothing words and touch. Also, remember to model your anger in a way that is consistent with what you’d like to see in your toddler. For example, it’s okay to show anger and allow anger to be shown by others so long as no one is getting hurt and the anger is being expressed in a respectful manner.

Some books that I often recommend to clients dealing with challenging or worrisome behaviour include:

The Emotional Life of the Toddler by Alicia F. Lieberman and Your Two-Year-Old: Terrible or Tender by Louise Bates Ames. The latter is one in a series of books that looks at each year of a child’s life from a developmental perspective.

Comments | Tagged under toddler, tips, behaviour
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