Q: Our 7-year-old son and 32-month-old daughter squabble with each other constantly, mostly over taking and playing with each other’s toys. The problem is our daughter, really. She will hit, scream and throw things when she is angry. She wants to be in her brother’s room doing whatever he is doing, and he will not close his door. He’s not rough with her, but we know he deliberately aggravates her. We have tried time-outs and separating them. With this sort of age gap, is there some way of stopping the uproar?
A: Yes, there is. When sibling conflict involves a 2-year-old and an older child, any attempt to aim corrective discipline at the toddler is going to fall flat on its face. A 2-year-old often is impervious to discipline.
Holding both children equally responsible for the problem isn’t going to work until the younger child is at least 3, so until then the only effective thing to do is to make the older child completely responsible for the problem. That may seem unfair, but the fact is that an older child ought to be able to prevent the problem from happening. In this case, the fact that your son enjoys aggravating his younger sister further justifies holding him responsible.
The solution is obvious and simple: your son closes and, if necessary, locks his door. That accomplishes two things: It establishes a physical boundary between himself and his sister, and she is forced to begin learning to entertain herself.
Allow one outburst a day. The second outburst means your son is not accepting his responsibility for the problem. As a result, he goes to bed an hour early, and every subsequent outburst shaves an additional 30 minutes off his bedtime.
Q: My husband and I are raising our 2-year-old grandson. He’s been in daycare since he was a year old. He loves his current daycare, and we’ve had absolutely no problems until recently. All of a sudden, when I drop him off, he has started clinging and crying and asking me not to go to work. I can’t figure out why this is happening, because as soon as I leave (after hugging him and reassuring him that I’m coming back), he’s fine, and during the day he plays well with the other kids. I stayed at home with my children so I’ve never experienced this problem with a child. Should I be looking for some underlying issue, or is this perfectly normal?
A: Separation anxiety spontaneously can arise at this age with no cause whatsoever. If handled calmly and matter-of-factly by the child’s parents, it should pass within a few months at most.
The longer you stick around, trying to calm down your grandson, the worse any given “episode” is likely to be. On the way to the center, tell him what you’re doing that day and that you’re coming back for him. Then, when you get there, just hand him over, kiss him, tell him you’ll see him later and walk away. Let the teacher deal with any crying that may occur. Obviously, his distress passes quickly as soon as he gets in with the other kids. If he screamed all day or curled up in a fetal position and stayed that way after you left, there’d be reason for concern. So don’t worry.
Family psychologist Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his website at www.rosemond.com.