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2-Year-Old Girl Being Rough With Younger Sibling

HOW TO KEEP TODDLER FROM PLAYING TOO ROUGH WITH BABY

Q. My 2-year-old loves her 11-month-old little sister and will play nicely with her most of the time. At times, however, she gets excited and becomes rough. She recently bit her three times while playing, and she will also try to wrestle her while hugging her and laughing. How do I discipline the rough behavior, but encourage affection and playfulness?

A. You may well be giving your daughter mixed signals about the roughhousing, acting upset on one occasion and then understanding and patient on the next. Your 2-year-old knows what she is doing, and she knows that she is causing pain to the baby. Your reaction, therefore, should be one of stern disapproval, and consistently so. Older sister needs to know exactly how you feel about her rough treatment of her little sister.

My standard recommendation as regards this situation, one that has solved the problem for lots and lots of parents, is to keep the older child completely away from the baby for a week. During this time, set a perimeter of about 10 feet around the baby and forbid the older child from entering that "safe zone." Without communicating anger, make it clear to your toddler that this new rule exists because she hurts the baby when she plays with her. Don't mince words about this.

After a week of quarantine, begin to allow brief, supervised sessions where the 2-year-old can interact with the baby, first touching, then holding, and so on. The week of deprivation causes the older child to want to be with the younger one, and she will figure out what she has to do to accomplish that. Over the next week, you gradually allow more and more interaction. If, however, the roughness starts again, you go back to square one. My experience is that within a week or two, the problem is solved.

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