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"Whereas he was once the center of your universe, he has been displaced from this paradise. He is now in time out, while you coo at his tiny rival. You cannot, of course, push back the clock to a time when he, alone, was the apple of your eye. All the same, trying to imagine how frustrated your 3 year old must often feel can help you counteract his sense of loss. Your expressions of love, gestures of devotion, and moments of intimacy with your son can help him feel less deserted and alone. Helping your son recapture a sense of shared joy in his relationship with you will turn down the fuel of his hate, and--in addition--smooth the pathway to his identification... as a loving, protective, sharing person." -- Elizabeth Berger

Every parent with more than one child knows that some sibling rivalry is inevitable. But what about when your child really acts out -- like when your almost-3- year old pees on the baby? In our last post we considered whether sticker charts work for a crime of passion like this, and why spankings and timeouts just increase the amount of anger and jealousy your little one is feeling and make it even harder, over time, for him to control himself.

If you missed that post, it's here: When You Pee On Your Brother You've Gone Too Far.  Bottom line: Kids "act out" when they have big feelings they can't put into words. So they act them out, to show you. If you want to change the behavior, help the child with the emotions driving the behavior.

In other words, don't get stuck in reacting and punishing, which is likely to make the child more defiant and aggressive. Instead, focus on prevention, to nip this behavior in the bud. Remind yourself that your child's acting out is a red flag that he needs your help with his emotions, so he doesn't act out like this again. Sure, you should set a limit, but every child knows he shouldn't pee on the baby. He just couldn't manage those big feelings enough to stop himself--or maybe he simply didn't care, which is worse, because it’s a symptom that the child considers his connection to you less important than doing what he wants.  READ POST

Tuesday, September 02, 2014 | Permalink

“Our 26 month old is overall really excellent with the three month old.  But now the baby is starting to play with toys, and the toddler always grabs them away from him. The baby is still too small to care that the toy gets taken...for now. Until now, we've handled sharing toys as you suggest--we don't force it, we talk about taking turns, asking the other child if they're done, etc. I'm a little less sure how to apply this logic when there is an age discrepancy. We can't ask the baby if he's done. I feel quite certain that I don't want to force my toddler to share, but sometimes I find myself saying, "Your brother is using that!" because it seems like he shouldn't just be able to take every toy the baby plays with.“

There's a reason "taking candy from a baby" has come to symbolize an easy but immoral abuse of power. You're right to feel uncomfortable with your toddler's compulsive grabbing from the baby; it's not good for the baby -- and it's not good for your toddler.  READ POST

Wednesday, September 11, 2013 | Permalink

“How should I tell my 5 year old son to react when his 19 month old brother hits him or acts aggressively towards him? I've read the articles on how to deal with it as a parent and we are working on it, but I'm not in the room with them every time they're playing together. I want to give my 5 year old the proper tools to deal with his little brother, too."

Mostly, children learn from our modeling. So if you respond with calm empathy to your upset little one, your older child will learn to do that as well.  Of course, he won't always be able to stay calm, particularly if he's worried about his little brother knocking down his tower, taking his truck, or ruining his game.  And if the little one actually hurts him, you can't really expect him to master his fight or flight response.   READ POST

Tuesday, September 10, 2013 | Permalink

"My 22 month old younger daughter very aggressively scratches my older daughter, who is 3 and a half."

"The 2 year old is beating up on the 8 year old at our house!"

"My toddler climbs on my five year old's back like a monkey and won't get off."

In my last post, I described how to intervene when a preschooler is aggressive toward a younger sibling. But sometimes it's the younger child, often a toddler, who initiates the brawling. Toddlers don't have a fully developed frontal cortex, so their emotions routinely overcome their knowledge that "hitting hurts." And often they can't express themselves very well verbally, so they're easily frustrated. 

But your older child deserves to feel safe in her own house, so you can't just sit by and "let them work it out." Obviously, you immediately get between your children to stop the hitting. You say "Ouch! No hitting! Hitting hurts!"  But what if the aggression continues?  READ POST

Friday, August 30, 2013 | Permalink

"My three year keeps hurting my 15 month old. Sometimes they play nicely, then out of the blue he'll just shove her over. We do timeouts and lectures all day long, but it doesn't help." – Claudia

Henry, age 3, is playing with Sophie, 15 months, by grabbing a toy away from her.  Sophie loves his attention and giggles at this interesting game, especially because he restores the toy to her every time.  But Henry is getting rougher each time, and Sophie is clinging harder to the toy. He wrenches it away from her.  Sophie bursts into tears.  Henry, feeling guilty, says “You act like a baby!” and reaches out and shoves her down, hard.  Now Sophie is wailing.  READ POST

Tuesday, August 27, 2013 | Permalink

“So just to clarify: 3-year-old girl kicks 1-year-old, there's a blood-curdling scream, and I am to hold my 3-year-old (after making sure the crying 1-year-old is fine, got that) and just sit with her until she feels better? No time-out, just hold her and tell her that I love her and that I know she is hurting too....So, no discipline, just love, i.e. more attention....more attention for kicking the baby?!"

I know exactly what this mom means. Someone kicks my baby? The lion-mama in me roars. The last thing I would feel like doing is lavishing love on the perpetrator.  READ POST

Friday, June 07, 2013 | Permalink

"Today I stepped outside to clean up some toys while my kids were eating. My 2 year old ran to the back door and cried out for me. My 4 year old didn't like his screaming and ran over and punched him several times. My 2 year old got so upset he threw up his whole lunch all over me. My 4 year old confessed "Mom, I did a bad thing...I punched S because he was crying and it made me mad." I have been getting very upset, sternly asking my 4 year old "Why do you want to hurt your brother?...I'm very disappointed in you and sad about this."  I typically do 4 minutes timeout and an apology for the bad behavior, then be nice to your brother for 3 days and then you get a superhero movie. Is this wrong?"

Is it a bad thing to use rewards and punishment?  Well, it doesn't actually work as well as emotion coaching and empathic limits to stop your son's hitting, and it doesn't teach the lessons you want to teach. The research says that if your son does stop hitting, it won't be because he has learned that hitting hurts his brother, but because he doesn't want to be punished. Of course, most parents would be willing to accept this, just to stop the hitting. But most kids just keep hitting, because the rewards and punishment don't help them with the underlying feelings or teach them a better way to solve the problem that caused the hitting. They just get sneakier, stop confessing, and start blaming. And it doesn't sound like your rewards and punishment are working, if he's still punching his brother to the point where his brother throws up.  READ POST

Friday, April 26, 2013 | Permalink