2-year-old unhappy about great-grandmother in the house

PARENT Q & A

Family Matters

January 16, 2000|By Dr. T. Berry Brazelton | Dr. T. Berry Brazelton,NEW YORK TIMES SPECIAL FEATURES

Q: My son-in-law and daughter graciously invited my 90-year-old mother, who has had a stroke, to live with them. The problem: They have a 2-year-old girl, an only child, who has become an absolute monster with my mother. She tries to pull the legs of the walker off the floor while my mother is walking. She pushes the wheelchair into things when my mother is sitting in it, and she blocks my mother's view from her window by placing her body in front of the glass. Needless to say, this is putting a strain on the family.

Her parents have admonished her by explaining that she shouldn't do these things, but I think the child needs more discipline. Something is bothering her, but how do we deal with it? Is she just a "bad seed"?

A: I don't know what a "bad seed" is, but this girl's reaction to her great-grandmother's "invasion" of her house and of her time with her parents reminds me of sibling rivalry.

Here are two things her parents can try to do with her:

1. They can pick her up to love her and reward her when she is not being a brat.

2. They can show her some positive things she can do for her great-grandmother.

If possible, your mother should also try to make a good relationship with the little girl. Can she read to the child, sing to her or tell her stories?

It may take time, and I agree that discipline for the little girl may be necessary. Appropriate discipline would be removing her from her great-grandmother's room, or giving her a timeout in her own room. This should be done calmly but firmly. If her parents overreact, it is likely to reinforce the girl's negative behavior.

Q: I feel I must comment on your advice in a recent column to a mother whose 3-year-old son is being negatively influenced by his more aggressive playmate. I believe your suggestion -- to let the boys work things out themselves -- couldn't be more wrong. Your method does not take into account the fact that young children do not always know the right way to behave. If left to themselves, they will indeed learn to "balance" each other's aggression but not to control it.

A child raised with the "let them work it out" philosophy does not become self-disciplined; he will always need outside restraints -- in this case, the other child's tolerance of his aggression. Usually the quieter child will either be overwhelmed by his playmate or will escalate his own aggression for the sake of self-protection.

I believe your advice will appeal to tired parents who are unwilling to put in the hard work that it takes to teach children proper socialization: how to care for others, use words rather than fists and avoid violent or aggressive people rather than retaliate or go to their level.

A: I agree with you about encouraging children to use words rather than fall into aggressive behavior. But it isn't always a solution. Children can often learn more from each other than they can from us. This is less likely to happen if we always try to control their aggressive behavior.

If, however, a young child is overwhelmed by an aggressive playmate, I would urge the parents to try to find a child who is like him to become a close friend, rather than one who is too aggressive. When two children are similar in temperament, they can learn to handle outbursts from each other and eventually learn to handle more aggressive children.

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