Q&A: I have a new baby. How should I handle my jealous 2-year-old?
We have a 2-year-old son and a 9-month-old daughter. The 2-year-old is being aggressive. He hits his sister and has pushed her over many, many times, causing her a lot of pain. We say, "No," and tell him he shouldn't be rough but it doesn't seem to help. What can we do?
Is your son’s aggression just directed towards his sister? Assuming it is, it’s frustrating for you but completely understandable from the perspective of a toddler’s development. Feelings of jealousy and competition are normal sibling emotions. After all, no-one asked his permission before she came along, and now he has to move over, share the spotlight and his parents, the two most important people in his life. Plus, she’s probably not any fun yet as a playmate.
Since toddlers don’t have the verbal ability to express what they are feeling, the only outlet for their intense emotions is a physical one. Add to that an inability to control impulses and you can see why he may repeatedly push his sister over, and more.
What to do about it? There isn’t a fool-proof approach to this one. Time-outs may be useful for some 2-year-olds but most don’t have the impulse control to make the lesson stick for the next time. One strategy that can work is based on the belief that what children want most is their parent’s attention. Any behavior that gets lots of attention (even negative attention in the form of yelling) will occur more frequently. So the next several times that you see aggression towards your daughter, try scooping her up and slathering her with sympathy and affection. Give your son a firm no, but otherwise ignore him. This may defeat the purpose for him and help curb the aggression.