“Help! My daughter is 2.5 years old and does not listen at all, she now has a little brother which she is jealous of. Sometimes her behaviour is out of control. What can I do?”
Ah bless you, this sounds very normal to me and so challenging for you when you are trying to meet the needs of a new baby. It’s very common for children to become a bit ‘wild’ when a new sibling comes along. Some children will be aggressive towards the baby; ‘accidentally’ squeezing too hard or being passive aggressive. Some children will be loving towards the baby but become difficult in another area. Your sweet girl isn’t trying to make life hard and when she doesn’t listen it’s because her brain chemistry means she literally CAN’T hear you.
You’ve probably noticed how children are sometimes naturally co-operative, kind and flexible. This happens when they feel connected to us, they feel our attention and warmth in a way that feels like we ‘get’ them. Often our attention gets unavoidably interrupted, causing small breaks in connection and our child’s upset feelings about that accumulate. And sometimes things happen in the family to create a bigger break in connection. Maybe one parent goes away on a trip, or you move house or get ill. Having a new sibling is a bigger break in connection. The unconscious, emotional part of the brain registers it as a threat. It questions if there will be enough love and attention to go around. With bigger breaks in connection, sometimes your child can’t feel your warmth and attention even when you are right there offering it. The emotional brain is on high alert and has the effect of inhibiting the thinking part of the brain that processes logic, impulse control, language. That’s why she can’t seem to listen because the part of her brain that can respond is temporarily taken down.
The most helpful way to help her feel ‘felt’ again is through offering Special Time. This is where you set a timer for 5 or 10 minutes and announce that this time is for her and you want to do whatever SHE wants. You avoid directing the play and just focus on being a big YES and delighting in her every move. When the timer goes off, you thank her warmly and hold the boundary that it’s now finished.
Sometimes when children feel close and connected to us again, having received our attention through play, it allows them to show us all the hard feelings they have accumulated through the breaks in connection. So she may use this as an opportunity to protest about Special Time being over and start to cry or tantrum. This is actually not what she’s realy upset about, but a pretex for all the other feelings. If you remain close by and keep offering your warmth, she’ll be able to offload the hurt that was in the way of her feeling connected. When you can Staylisten by saying things like “I’m right here, I know you wanted to keep playing, I’ll be with you while you’re upset, I’m not going anywhere” and hold the limit “That’s the end of Special Time, you’ll get another turn tomorrow” she gets to cry out all her frustration and fear. What you’ll notice is that through receiving your attention and using any opportunity to dump out these feelings while you Staylisten, you’ll see your sweet girl is back to her easy going, helpful, generous self.
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