Q: My 18-month-old is so jealous that she screams and pushes my other kids away if they come anywhere near me. What can I do to save my sanity?
A: First off, it might be helpful to understand why she’s being so possessive: She feels displaced by a younger sibling or in competition with an older one. She wants and needs that special alone time with you, which can be very elusive in a busy family. So promise and deliver that time every day. Second, when your daughter acts up, briefly explain why her behavior isn’t appropriate. Don’t go overboard; she won’t understand anything lengthy. If she resorts to hitting or nasty yelling, separate yourself from her, even if it makes her go more bananas. She’ll eventually get it—but very slowly and with great patience on your (and your other kids’) part. Repetition is what works at this age, not reasoning.
Third, you need to set limits and be firm yet compassionate. Don’t bother getting angry—it won’t do any good; she’s just too young to understand (or care) that she’s not acting as you’d like her to. Patience and avoidance of tricky situations will get the job done far better than giving in to the temptation to yell or take away something.
Fourth, realize that this phase will pass as your daughter matures. As she approaches the 3- and 4-year-old mark, she’ll gain patience and begin to understand when you say, “Wait a minute, please—Mommy will finish this and then you and I will do that.” We can expect kids this age to understand abstract notions like “later” and even sharing. Younger toddlers? Not so much.
Bottom line: Your child needs to learn that mom and dad may not always be available to entertain her all the time. One of the most important lessons we can teach our children is: It’s OK to be unhappy once in a while. And when we can teach it with compassion and confidence, our children learn to tolerate the times they have to wait, delay or share—even something as sweet and precious as mom.