Last week Lisa gave us a challenge.
Scenario: 2 1/2 year old with a newly crawling baby sister. She touches his toy, he knocks her to the ground so she hits her head.
My first reaction was to laugh because this is so very normal. However, Lisa doesn't need laughter, she needs solutions, and so I consulted my Love and Logic Magic for Early Childhood book, and talked to a few friends.
First and foremost, it is important to remember that consistency is the key. If a parent is not consistent, you can forget this ever working. Second, it is important for a parent to remember that they are in charge. Not the kid. I have seen many parents make excuses based on a kids' personality that they are "out of control". Very few children are ever out of control. It just means that boundaries haven't been established, yet.
In this case, the boundaries for toys haven't been established with the 2 1/2 year old. He is in the mindset of "everything is mine". This is very age appropriate. At this age, time out will not work and will probably result in a tantrum or as my husband likes to say, "working themselves into a lather".
Love and Logic suggests three steps to empathy and consequences for children younger than three years of age.
1. Respond with empathy. Decide what empathetic response you want to use. It can be "Uh-Oh!" (my favorite) or "How sad" or "What a bummer". Something that comes naturally to you. When the child hits or kicks or knocks down another child, walk over and use your empathetic response first.
2. Either change your child's location or remove the "offending" object - or both. The toy he was using to hit his sister, for example, is taken away, and the child is then put in the crib, or pack n play, or in another room, or (my favorite) right next to the parent on the floor. Anyplace that will teach the child that if they hit, they will no longer be able to play with their toy. My husband and I always put the offending toy or object on top of the refrigerator.
3. Allow the consequences to do the teaching. Warnings, lectures, reminders feed the problem. Actions speak louder than words. Chances are good that the child will throw a fit the first few times that this pattern is repeated. The parent should not engage in the tantrum, but simply hold the child there until they are calm and then move on.
Now, my friend and I came up with a few other ideas in order to prevent this from happening. One is to have the 2 1/2 year old choose toys that the crawler can play with. This won't prevent the crawler from stealing the 2 1/2 year old's toys, but, it might be a diversion since the crawler is most likely just going after any and all toys. Another option is to keep the crawler in a pack n' play with age appropriate toys. This worked for me, but I had a crawler that was perfectly happy being a potted plant in a pack n' play. It wouldn't have worked as well with my older child.
At this age, these three steps will work much better than trying to reason with the child. A 2 1/2 year old has the attention span of a gnat, and they are trying to test the boundaries and see what they can come up with. The more established the boundaries, the fewer instances of head bashing will occur.