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Question

My two and half year old son has suddenly become very agressive and stubborn after the birth of our second child. It's been almost three months but things are not getting better as he resorts to shouting, hitting and even harming the baby. What to do?

Answer

Brenda Bercun Replied: Adjusting to a new baby is a challenge for everyone in the family especially a toddler. It is very hard to share mommy's and daddy's attention. The bottom line is that you want your son to learn that his new role in the family is very important not only to you, but to the baby as well. Being a Big Brother is very special and there are many ways to reinforce this. First I would make sure that your older son's needs of playtime, and proper sleep, and nutrition are being met. Make special time with him when the baby is sleeping. This time can be either playing with him or having him help you with simple fun chores i.e. sorting laundry. Always praise him for his attempts and successes. Verbalize that he is a wonderful helper and that you had fun with him. When the baby is awake reinforce their new budding relationship by pointing out to your older son that the baby likes him and likes looking at him. When the baby learns new skills such as smiling etc., praise the baby and congratulate your older son on being a wonderful teacher to the baby and teaching him/her the new skill. "The baby learned this from watching you. You are a wonderful teacher and big brother. The baby is lucky to have you and so am I." When you are feeding the baby have a special basket of toys and books that your older son can do during this time. Let him know that this toy basket only comes out during feeding time. Every so often change the toys around so that he won't be bored with it. If possible either sit on the floor with him while you are feeding the baby, or be at the table where he will be playing. Compliment him so that he knows you are paying attention to him. Encourage your son to be a helper when appropriate, whether he carries an item for you, gets something you asked for etc. Make sure your son feels appropriately acknowledged for his good behaviors. With these changes, the aggression should decrease and hopefully stop. But if your son is aggressive to the baby. I would encourage you to give him a short time out by having him sit on the floor or in a chair for about 30 seconds to one minute. I would then invite him over and help him express himself if possible. Maybe he needed a hug from you, maybe he is tired or hungry, maybe the baby was crying and he didn't like that. Helping your older son develop words and expression for his needs is an important part of emotional development. When your son is calm explain to him that hitting is not allowed and that if he hits or shouts at the baby he will get a time out, but if he tells you what he needs you will do your best to help him. Explain that as a big brother he is not allowed to hurt the new baby. It is the job of everyone in the family to make sure everyone is safe. Make sure you reinforce the smallest of positive interactions. Hug him, high five him, give him a thumbs up. When he knows that you are catching him at being good and reinforcing the behavior you will see more of it. On my web-site www.yournextbaby.com on the books page you can purchase a musical CD entitled,"Watch Me Baby, Watch Your Brother", which is an up beat catchy tune about being a big brother. You both may enjoy the music and the message.
Posted On 2007-02-13 13:21:14
Trish Booth, MA Replied: Two and a half can be a stormy time even without a new baby in the house. Here are some suggestions to deal with the several things that may be going on. First, he can't harm the baby. He needs a consistently enforced rule about how he treats the baby. Tell him you know he is upset and doesn't like it that the baby is getting fed, held (or whatever the issue of the moment is). However, he can't hit pinch, poke, hit (or whatever he's doing to the baby). Enforcing that rule with some kind of a time out will give him (and you) a few minutes to calm down. Second, he needs time each day to burn off some of his energy. If he can't go outside to use his big muscles, do some active play inside. Play music and dance, stomp, jump, and wriggle to it. Doing it with him can actually be stress reliever for both of you. As for his shouting, try the approach of "Yelling hurts my ears so they can't understand you. You'll have to whisper." Whispering it to him can both get his attention and model a lower voice level. Sometimes loudness is an effort to make up for lack of words. If he is just shouting without saying words, try giving him the words he needs. You can say, "You look angry. Are you angry that …?" Giving him a place to shout and blow off steam might also work. Choose a distant corner or closet. With the closet, you only open the door so he can shout into it. He doesn't go into the closet. To address some of the rivalry, which is normal, make sure that you give him special time each day. This is time that just the two of you do something that he enjoys. If it comes toward the end of the day, you can talk about looking forward to that time. If it is earlier in the day, you can remind him of something positive about the time you had together. The amount of time can be short, 15-20 minutes. Finally, give your son things to do that he can be proud of. Suggest tasks he can do now that he's a big brother. This can include getting a diaper, toy, or other item for the baby. He can entertain the baby by singing, telling a story, even "reading" one of his favorite books aloud. You can do this sitting together on the sofa while you hold the baby so that you can closely monitor the interaction. Be sure to praise your son whenever he shows kindness rather than aggression. That will help him build on his positive interactions.
Posted On 2007-02-11 20:20:54
Pamela Waterman Replied: It's the classic resentment/bewilderment at having to share your attention, which was never the case before this crying "lump" came along. You do have to keep explaining that hitting, etc. simply will not be tolerated, but you can let him draw a picture to show you how angry he is (just dark lines on a paper help get out the feelings), or tell him, "How about your growl as loud as you can when you feel like that." You can then say, "I'm glad you showed me how mad you are. Whenever you feel that way, come tell me and I'll give you a hug." A great book on this topic is Siblings Without Rivalry by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish - look at pages 32-35 to see other examples. Make sure to give him one-on-one time, too, with just you or just your husband. This should include lots of cuddles and reading out loud. With books, you can tell him how wonderful it is that he can understand stories with you, because the baby is far too small to be able to. You can go on walks and say how much fun it is to be able to do these things with him because he's getting to be such a big boy. Over time, but not for a while yet, you can ask him to help you read to the baby, or show the baby how to roll a ball. Can he have play dates with other children, possibly some with siblings, to have time with children his age, and see how others go through it? Praise and love will get him over this, so be sure to "catch" him being good about other things around the house, too.
Posted On 2007-02-09 22:58:06
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