Hair pulling and following his older sister around are a 1-year-old's way of engaging with her. You can change the outcome (her negative responses of pushing, yelling and screaming “mine!”) by focusing on ways to increase her role as her brother’s encouraging teacher or coach.
My daughter is 2 1/2, and my son just turned 1. My daughter gets very frustrated with her brother. He always wants to be right next to her, playing with “her” toys, opening the door when she uses the bathroom, etc. She gets upset, yells, and pushes him down. I know that 2-year-olds are very possessive (“Mine!”) but how can I help her learn to share? Is she not developmentally ready for the concept? What should I do when she pushes him down? How should I handle him when he pulls her hair? (He loves the reaction from her!)
-- Mom of Two
Dear Mom of Two,
It is wonderful that your son displays his love for his sister. His interactions and responses are very age appropriate. He is learning from her with everything she does. Hair pulling and following her around are his way of engaging with her. You can change the outcome (her negative responses of pushing, yelling and screaming “mine!”) by focusing on ways to increase her role as her brother’s encouraging teacher or coach.
My three children attended a Montessori school, and when my son was 5, he was given the opportunity to read simple stories to younger nonreaders. They thought he was amazing, so his self-esteem soared, attention-seeking behaviors decreased, and he developed leadership skills. Helping to tie shoes, offering to carry items or holding a door for a younger one are simple examples of behaviors to be nurtured and encouraged.
In your situation, your daughter needs to feel that she a very important, positive role model. Respect your daughter’s concerns and set boundaries for your son when she needs privacy. When you follow the exact same routine each time, both children will learn quickly. First, go to your daughter, saying, “There is no reason to scream.” Next, remove your son, using the word “privacy” each time he approaches her in the bathroom.
When your son pulls hair, go to him first, remove him from the area, saying, “You may not pull hair.” Place him down within eyesight and go to the victim, your daughter. Soothe her, paying much attention to her. Children do things for a response or reaction. When your son doesn’t get that fun screaming reaction from his sister, his hair pulling will decrease. When he is ready to re-engage, carry him to her, placing his hand on her hair, saying, “Sorry for pulling hair.” Although he does not have those language skills, he will learn to apologize by doing.
When your daughter pushes him down, use the same intervention, addressing her unacceptable behavior with a verbal correction and providing plenty of attention to him.
Sharing is difficult for many, many children. It is a concept which needs to be taught, over and over, so put on your preschool teaching hat. Establish a House Rule of “If it’s out, we share it.” That means she can play with special, higher level items when her brother is napping or is fully engaged in another activity.
Focus on facilitating multiple activities they can do together each day, such as a wagon ride or stroller walk, where she pulls or pushes her brother. Interpret for your daughter, explaining what he is trying to do or say. Praise all levels of kindness, saying, “Look, your brother wants to share his cookie with you. He loves you so much.” You definitely can increase sibling relations by nurturing the goodness in them both.
Diana Boggia, M.Ed., is a parenting educator in Stark County, Ohio, whose column appears weekly in The Repository. Send your child-rearing questions to FamilyMatters@cantonrep.com or The Repository, c/o Family Matters, 500 Market Ave. S, Canton OH 44702.