Toddler relationship questions answered

Does your toddler suffer from sibling rivalry or does he stick to his dad like glue? Our health visitor answers your questions on toddler family relationships...

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1) My older child is jealous of the new baby

Q: Since his sister was born my 2-year-old son’s become so demanding, especially when I sit down to feed her. He loves the baby, but he and I are having constant battles. Help!

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A: Once the glowing moments of a ‘new sibling’ have calmed down, the bottom line for a toddler is that there’s a rival kid in town. Sometimes he’ll adore her, but at other key times, like feeding and changing, a green-eyed monster will rear its head. It’s completely normal, but very frustrating. Try and see life from your tot’s side. He enjoyed these activities with you, so when he watches you with his sister he’s reminded of how things have changed and these feelings can be overwhelming. The best thing you can do is prepare him – tell him you need to feed his sister. Get him alongside you with a favourite book, and say it’s time for a cuddle. If he whines, tell him you know it’s difficult for him. Generally, make an effort to praise him when he co-operates, so he feels like the special grown-up one.

2) Will he cope without me?

Q. My 3 year old’s about to start nursery. He’s rarely been away from me and I’m worried he won’t settle there. What can I do to make it easier for him?

A. Firstly, don’t assume he won’t settle – he might love nursery! What he needs from you is a calm and positive attitude to the new scenario. Take care to talk about your worries out of his earshot, because if he picks up on your concerns, he’ll be a lot more apprehensive about the whole idea. When he’s around, keep re-enforcing all the nice parts that he has to look forward to, like making new friends, having different toys to play with, and so on. Have a word with friends and family, as it’s probably best if everyone doesn’t keep asking him if he’s excited about going to nursery. He’s never been so he has no idea what to expect – and that can lead to unnecessary anxiety.

Make sure you’ve planned something to keep you busy the day he goes, so you’re not sitting around worrying at home either. This is your chance to make new friends, too.

3) Bossy big sister

Q. I’m not sure how to handle my 4 year old who is always bossing around her siblings. Any advice?

A. Older toddlers develop bossy traits as they begin to assert themselves, but they can become over zealous. With a little encouragement she’ll turn the bossiness to assertiveness, and have more fun.

Start by looking at how much responsibility she has for her siblings, and how often she’s asked to look after, play or distract them. Older siblings are often helpful in families, but it’s a fine line between helping out and being overwhelmed with responsibility for errant young toddlers. Try to help her understand that her siblings need their own space. Learning to empathise with others will help all her friendships too.

Teach her some stock phrases to use with her siblings such as, “What do you think?”, or, “Your turn to choose”. Or you could try introducing ‘taking a vote’ when making decisions as a family to show that it’s important to include everyone’s opinion. Make sure the rest of the adults in the family encourage her to do the same, so it’s a group effort.

4) She always asks for her dad

Q. I’ve recently separated from my 3 year old’s father. My daughter sees her dad regularly, but her behaviour towards me is awful and she asks for him constantly. How can I help her readjust?

A. We all feel confused, angry and guilty when a break up happens. The same applies to children, who don’t want anything to change. Your daughter is showing her fears and insecurities to you through her behaviour. You and her dad need to see her as an anxious, worried little girl and treat her behaviour from that point of view. If she seems angry, say, “you seem angry”. If she is crying say “you seem sad”. If she feels you understand her, she may open up to you.

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Remember, her concerns are not the same as yours. Getting to grips with her new life will be easier if her routines are safe and predictable. So keep to all access arrangements with little change, if possible, in the early days. She will adjust to her new life, but, just like you, will need a lot of love and support to do so.

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