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Two Year Old Jealous Over New Baby

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Dear Susan:

I have a question for you about my daughter Carly. She’s two years and five months as of right now. My wife and I having issues with her willfulness. As you know, we had a son nine months ago. Now, we are starting to experience jealousy in Carly’s part. If we put Trevor in the high chair, she melts down and wants in the highchair herself. If she sees us putting him the bouncer, she wants in the bouncer. She also refuses to sleep in her crib and demands that my wife sleep on the family room couch with her.

Carly is sweet and very bright, but very demanding. We don’t know how to  discipline her at such a tender age, because she either won’t listen or can’t understand the word no.

It is starting to wear us down. Any suggestions?


Dear Mark

Carly is suffering from a bad case of the baby-in-the-house blues. She will get over it, but remember she didn’t get to this stage overnight and she won’t get past it overnight either. She has learned that her actions will get her the attention she craves, and that she pretty much has power over situations she dislikes. She more or less dislikes Trevor right now and compensates by taking charge, because she has been allowed to. Parents often have this occur as result of a normal parental need to make their older child feel secure and loved since baby’s arrival.

This is natural, but now is the time to remove all doubt in her mind about who is in charge of your household. This is a case of using words and conversations and talking to her about what you expect her to do. Trust me, she understands not only no and yes, but also every other possible verbal expression that signals “no.”

You can “fix” this typical two year-old behavior by teaching her to use good words like please and thank you. When she says “no” simply tell her to say “yes.” Teach her to give compliments to others, when she is happy and content. Tell her what words you like and which ones are not okay, and by interrupting her “no” talk.

Carly is not too young to have limits and definite boundaries. The more she cooperates and helps, the bigger the boundary can be; the more she acts out, disrupts Trevor‘ s eating and other household routines, the smaller the boundary should shrink. Accept the fact that Carly’s personality and strong mindedness are signs of intelligence and persistence. Admit that as parents you may have gone overboard to accommodate her and she has formed a habit that is not helpful or compliant.

Here are a few steps for helping Carly become cooperative and compliant, but still moderately bossy, happy most of the time, and enthusiastic about life.

Step 1 – Feeding Trevor: Help her to assemble her baby doll highchair, pretend food, pretend pots and pans, etc, near the kitchen, so when Trevor goes into the highchair, she is instructed to get her equipment nearby (or you help her get it) and pop her doll or animal into it’s highchair.

Speak clearly, not loudly, and that signals this is not an option – do not ask her if she wants to do it. NO QUESTIONS. It is simply a choice between doing it herself, or doing it with your help. THE KEY TO THE BEHAVIOR OF TWO YEAR-OLDS is teaching them that there are only two choices – doing it oneself or helping them to do it. Don’t discuss it; don’t argue or threaten or bribe; talking to Carly is a lot like talking to a beloved pet: Sit, get the book, and come here, or good girl! They appreciate short, concise, clear directions!!!!

Step 2 – Feeding Trevor, etc.: When Carly gets pushy and invades Trevor’s highchair boundary, ignore her with your eyes, don’t talk to her about it, just firmly walk her over to her doll’s highchair and clearly tell her to feed the baby cause the baby is hungry. Make a game of it, even to the point of putting real food in the tray table of the doll If she pitches a fit, let her fall down or whatever she does, and talk to the doll not Carly; tell the doll you know she is so hungry. Pretend to comfort the doll, offer her food. Be creative but do not attend to Carly if and when she throws a fit, just stay nearby and…

Step 3 – Feeding Trevor, etc.: When she stops to get a breath, quickly jump in and say, “good for you, you stopped trying to get into his chair. Come on, let’s go feed your doll.” You will find that this is the attention she craves, and by getting rewarded for stopping the fit – even if is pausing to take a breath – you are catching her being good (or better). Only pay attention to her and the doll for a few moments. This is very reinforcing for her.

Trevor won’t mind an interruption and if he does, ignore him long enough to give that good compliment to Carly.

Step 4 – Feeding Trevor, etc. until Carly gets over these baby blues tendencies, do not feed both children together – Trevor and Carly’s doll now eat together, then you and Carly eat together, even if you just sit there and tell her stories; sit with her at the table, even you are not eating at that time and carry on a conversation so she enjoys the social part of eating.

At this age and stage of development, it‘s all about the social-personal aspects of eating, sleeping, playing and helping. Two year-olds think they are capable of helping fold laundry, rearrange pots and pans, and clean out drawers. Two year-olds need motivation to behave, because they fall apart and come back together so many times a day, depending upon tiredness, hunger, activity level and sleep patterns. Two year-olds want to be independent but have no skills to be independent, so they throw fits, then cling like Velcro, then act wise and wonderful and then start the cycle all over again. It’s so much fun to help them get good habits at this age. Go for it!!!

Thanks for writing.

Susan H. Turben, Ph.D.

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