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Dad's New Girlfriend

What is the most sensitive way to introduce a young child to a parent's new love interest?

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Be patient with your toddler's need for lots of love and attention.
Be patient with your toddler's need for lots of love and attention.

Q: I have a son who is 2 1/2 years old. My wife and I have been separated for about eight months. I just started dating someone who has two young children. I am wondering what the protocol is for introducing someone new to my toddler.

A: When parents separate, young children often show their worry and fear by having sleep troubles, feeding problems, or regressions in toilet learning. Many infants and toddlers become whiny, demanding and clingy. They want to be held a lot. They want your personal, undivided attention.

Thus, when you introduce your toddler to your new companion and her children, go slowly. Watch your little boy's reactions when together with new children. Is he eager to play? Watchful and wary? Cranky and overwhelmed? Does he show, by vigorous thumb-sucking or a solemn face, that this stimulation of new children and a new adult is too bewildering for him? You are the best judge of your toddler's reactions.

Remember that right now, your toddler may not want to share you with anyone. If you act physically loving with your new friend or her children, he may become fearful and wonder whether you prefer those kids to him. He may feel confused that you are affectionate with a woman who is not his mommy.

Keep the play situation calm and easy. Do not gush or force your toddler into this new social situation. Hold him and snuggle him on your lap at first if he is more comfortable just looking on from your secure and warm lap. Try to understand how perplexing this situation may seem from your toddler's point of view. Go easy. Stay near and available. Caress him and smile reassuringly as you set the stage for introductions. Have interesting toys and well-loved storybooks available for your toddler.

Be patient and loving and give lots of personalized attention to your toddler. Then he will gain courage to interact with others too.

About the Author

Alice Sterling Honig, Ph.D., is a professor emerita of child development at Syracuse University. She is the author of Secure Relationships: Nurturing Infant-Toddler Attachments in Early Care Settings.

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