Thursday, June 6, 2019

Siblings Rivalry: When the baby becomes a toddler

My son (will be 6 in July) has been showing strange behaviors. He has been peeing on the carpet ON PURPOSE when he gets angry lately and that could be because I didn’t let him watch TV more than what he should. I know most of his anxiety is because of jealousy to his younger sister who is 2 now. When he hits his sister and we ask him to go to his room. He does that, too. Yesterday he did it because he wanted to play with me and I wasn’t available because I was talking a shower.

I try to stay calm and firm as much as I can. We try to have special time with him but it’s very hard with his attitude!  I feel a big disconnect between us since my daughter was born. No matter how hard I try, he usually doesn’t want to go anywhere with me. Most of the time he tells me he hates me, which really hurts. For a special time, we go to his favorite places like Santa Monica pier, CPK or Pinkberry together.

I know he is doing all these to get attention but we do give him all the attention we can. I have been getting help from different child psychologists. Going to lectures and etc. He is in such power struggle with me and nothing works!

Since his sister is now two and starting to have her own opinions and wishes expressed more, their relationship is changing. I am sure your relationship with her is changing too. She is not a baby or a toddler that can be easily redirected anymore. Now, he needs to negotiate with her and probably after a day of doing this at school with peers he is exhausted and has no patience for her. He doesn’t know how to handle this new tiny person in his space. He is not supposed to. This is where you come in.

1) Your role is now mediator instead of only caregiver. You need to show your son that you have his back and understand his point of view. The more he feels you are on his side, the easier will be for him to be more flexible with his sister. We tend to demand a lot from big brothers. Try to find the reason why he is hitting his sister and solve that first. Only until you understand the root cause of the problem, you will understand what is the skill that he is lacking and it’s causing the hitting. Then, you can deal with the hitting saying: " If you are frustrated and she is not listening to you, come get me. I will help. It is not ok to hit her". This will help him with stopping before hitting and move away from the situation. This may not happen right away so, at first, try to be nearby when you think a difficult situation is coming. 

2) Connect at home: It sounds that you are having a special time with him outside the house, which is great. But, I think you should try to find moments to connect at home. I call them rituals instead of routines. I know it is difficult with 2 children, but they don't have to be long to be special. Write a special note that he can take to school in his pocket or have a special notebook just for the two of you to make drawings and write notes to each other. Maybe, when his sister is busy playing approach him. Give him a kiss and your undivided attention even if it is only for one minute. Sit with him to watch a movie or just be nearby. Don't label it or highlight it. The more defiant children are, the more important it is to connect with them. Even though is hard, we are the adults in the relationship. It might take a while to set this in place but take your time to find something that works for you. 

3) Highlight natural consequences and give him new strategies he can use instead of punishing him.  About peeing on the floor, have a conversation when he is calm and say to him: "I have noticed you've been peeing on the floor when you are angry and we have had less time to play together because we have to clean the carpet afterward." Wait for his response. Later on, you can say: "It is hard when I am mad too. When I am frustrated I scream but I am going to try to change that and instead I am going to take 5 deep breaths and pause. (Sometimes I call it "blow the birthday candles" and you use your hand to blow one finger at the time). Would you like to try it with me? It might help us get more time together."  He might not use it right away and in the heat of the moment might be forgotten. He might not want to use it but keep referring to it. "Take a deep breath, let's figure it out". Stay firm on your limits no matter how angry he is. Accept all feelings that come with this. I know it is hard to see it that way but difficult situations are opportunities for connection as well. 

If you catch him before peeing, tell him to go to the bathroom or take him saying: "You can be mad but pee goes in the toilet. Go to the bathroom please." When you are not there to catch it beforehand, I would say "Oh no. You were really mad that I couldn't play with you while I was taking a shower. I really wanted to spend some time playing with you but now we have to clean the rug instead". Make a plan to play or read later in the day if he is asking for it. Look for him later and make sure you follow through on the plan and remind him if he forgets. This is how you build trust that even when things don’t happen right away, you are serious about what you say.

4) Accept all feelings and don't take it personally (this is a hard one, I know!) Hearing your child tell you that he hates you is one of the most painful things in the world. When children say "I hate you", they really mean I didn't like what you did or said, I am mad!. With their peers you might hear "I don't want to be your friend anymore" or "You can't come to my birthday party." Focus on what triggered the response and make a plan for next time. You can respond with: "I get it. You really wanted to watch another show on TV and it is time for dinner. You can watch it tomorrow afternoon".   Then move on to the kitchen confidently. If he doesn’t follow you, come back and help him move to the table gently. 

5) Allow time for transitions and inform the plan beforehand. Try to have transitions when he has completed what he is doing. For example: "After you finish the puzzle we are going to have a snack".  If that is not possible get a 5-minute warning and tell him when he can keep working on it. Especially with TV, transitions are hard. Let him know he can watch one episode or one movie and then you will turn it off. Talk to him before turning it on. Once they are watching they are not listening to you. I usually save screen time before dinner or a snack so there is a clear transition to move towards. 

While a new sibling disrupts an only child’s world when they are born, when they become a toddler/preschooler they not only have to share their parents but also the environment around them. They will both grow in this new state of being and learn from one another. The more you can support them in talking to each other and find solutions together, the more skilled they will become in negotiating with one another. This might seem time-consuming but see this time with them as an investment for the future. This is the first time they are going through this process and so are you.

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