Q. Our two daughters--35 months and 21 months--are incredibly bright and sweet, but their personalities are very different.
My husband is pretty much everything anyone could ask for in a father--caring, affectionate, humorous, involved--but he's more comfortable with the older child, who is much like him.
He grew up in a household where clean and tidy took precedence over fun, which makes it hard for him to enjoy our younger child. She was born joyful, easygoing and extremely tactile.
She loves to hold her hands under running water and pour water from one container to another. She blows bubbles and then pours the liquid all over her tummy; "soaps up" her hands with her yogurt and plays with modeling clay for up to an hour. She dances a lot, walks on tiptoe across the carpet, prefers to eat with her hands and wants to touch things that are hot, cold, scratchy, soft.
My husband can't bear the messes she makes. He cleans up after her before she's finished playing and gets angry with me if I let her taste non-toxic play clay or a crayon. He doesn't like it when she plays with keys (too dirty); shakes her tambourine or bells (too noisy); plays in the sink (too wet); or puts lotion on her legs. "It's Mommy's," he says, even though I gave it to her.
We usually agree on the limits placed on our children, but I feel he's far too rigid on this issue.
How can I help my husband and daughter accommodate each other?
A. Young children mess up a house many times a day, especially if they learn best by touching, moving and feeling, but don't encourage your little girl to make super messes.
If you put her pleasure first, you'll set her on a collision course with her dad and may make it hard for her to fit in at nursery school or on a playground, where the rules will probably be stricter than yours. She can still explore the world if her boundaries are a little tighter.
She definitely should play with water in the kitchen sink, but toss a beach towel on the floor first to absorb the spills. Let her ring her bells and shake her tambourine--if no one is napping--but don't let her play with your keys, not because they're dirty but because she's going to lose them one day and cause a parental panic attack. Give her measuring spoons instead, even if you have to carry them in your purse.
Modeling clay is as important as water to a tactile child, but set her up at the same easy-to-clean table each time and put the clay away as soon as she loses interest. A bored child can make a terrible mess.
Don't let her taste clay or crayons, however, because they aren't edible; don't let her pour bubble soap on her tummy or soap up her hands with yogurt, because that's wasteful, and don't let her smear your lotion on her legs, because she's going to upset at least one person in the family. Instead use the lotion to give massages to your daughters. The younger one will adore it since she's so tactile, and the older one will like it because she loves you.
And yes, have the little one use a spoon or a fork to eat dinner because she's ready to do it. If you wait much longer, she'll be entrenched in her "no" stage and still be eating with her fingers when she's 3.
This may sound like too many nos for your tactile, kinesthetic child, but she won't mind if you and especially her dad dance with her and walk on your tiptoes, too, and if you invite her to plant paperwhite bulbs in a pot of gravel with you; feel the texture of every fabric; smell spices and herbs and sculpt dough into cookies.
The more you can involve your husband in your daughter's hands-on activities, the more comfortable he will be with her learning style. And the more you can respect his living style, the more he'll enjoy both children.
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