Dear David Coleman: 'My toddler has changed since his sister was born. He is constantly bold'
Q My three-year-old has changed since his sister was born five months ago. He is constantly bold, answering us back and he cries and screams all the time if he doesn't get what he wants. He stamps his feet and shouts at me and his dad when we try to discipline him. I started using a bold step but he doesn't seem to care. I know everything changed for our son when his sister was born, but I don't know where to go from here or how to get a better balance at home.
David replies: Having a second child can be a huge shock to the family system. You will know that the birth of any baby can be overwhelming, even in the most positive of circumstances. When you get home the level of work involved in parenting can feel like it has not just doubled, but exponentially increased. Even settling into the new routines of being parents to two children may have been difficult for you.
However, if you try to put yourself into your son's shoes, you may see the experience differently. He is only three and so doesn't have the same ability to understand and contextualise the changes that have happened in his family. He will only have his lived experience, in the here and now, to rely on. That experience is probably one of suddenly being "demoted" in importance in the family.
For example, he may no longer get your attention as a priority, he may have to wait longer, and he may not get his needs met with the same diligence as before, simply because you have more to do. This is no criticism of your parenting, it is just the natural experience for many oldest children as their family becomes busier.
Any or all of that may be upsetting for him. Being just three, he is unlikely to be able to articulate that, and so it may be that his behaviour is his way of expressing his frustration and distress that his life seems harder.
So, rather than characterising his behaviour as bold, try to see it as his way of telling you that he is struggling to make sense of, and adjust to, the changes that have come about since his sister was born. Instead of punishing his behaviour (by putting him on a bold step) try to show him that you can understand it is frustrating for him.
Alongside any emotional understanding you can show, it will also help him to be involved in the care you need to show to his sister. So, getting him to help with nappy changes, or asking him to pick a book for story time for him and his sister, or getting him to choose clothes for her to wear will all give him a sense of importance and engage him in positive interactions with her, helping him to adjust positively to her presence.
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