Name-Calling in the Family

When children feel upset, they may express their feelings in less than ideal ways. As adults, we can express our feelings maturely and without conflict (there are exceptions though!). However, as children are children, they can resort to insults and name-calling when they feel slighted, without any regard to the feelings of other people.

If name-calling is a problem in your family, consider the following tips:

What is Name-Calling?
Children often use words like “stupid,” “baby,” “idiot,” “moron,” and so on when addressing their siblings in anger. While parents do not generally “name-call” in the traditional way, the use of negative labels can have a similar effect. When a parent calls a child’s behavior “babyish,” “silly,” “mean,” “rude,” or “selfish,” he or she is in effect, also name-calling. Parents may not even realize that they are name-calling when they use these negative labels. They can innocently put these words into many simple, appropriate-sounding sentences – such as those below:

  • “You are being so rude.”
  • “What you are saying is rude.”
  • “Don’t be so rude.”
  • “That was so rude.”

Whatever grammatical structure is used, the negative label rude will be absorbed by the child. Parents cannot minimize the effects of a negative label by trying to hide it in various sentence structures. If the label is used anywhere in a sentence, it will be felt as an insult by the child. Of course the parent is simply trying to educate the child and not trying to insult him or her, but the child does not necessarily understand that.

Negative Effects of Name-Calling
Any negative label or insult has the potential to hurt a child’s feelings. Children who are frequently insulted by their siblings often remember the experience with pain even in adulthood. Children who have been insulted by their parents (i.e. being called “stupid,” “selfish,” “bad,” “good-for-nothing” etc.) also often retain the pain throughout adulthood.

However, remembered pain is not the worst consequence of name-calling. Far worse is the impact name-calling can have on personality development. Even fully grown adults who are subjected to regular insults (verbal abuse) are eventually affected by it: they come to feel less adequate, less competent and less lovable the more they experience being insulted. This effect is much much more powerful in childhood when a youngster’s sense of self is not yet fully formed. At this point, being called names can leave the child truly believing that he or she is damaged, worthless, useless, bad and defective, as well as unlovable. Once a child entertains such notions about him/herself, the child tends to act in ways that are consistent with that poor self-image. So a child who is regularly called a particular negative label, comes to believe that he IS that label. The label can be crippling, causing him to give up trying or project negative judgments onto others for the rest of his life (“I know no one really likes me”). Of course the negative labels used regularly by parents tend to be much more damaging than those used only by siblings, but the effects of sibling-abuse must not be underestimated.

Model Appropriate Behavior
Parents can help their kids learn to use positive words instead of negative labels. The first step is providing a model. This means that parents never call children names – they never use negative label or insulting language. Many people wonder how it is possible to correct a child without using a negative label. The secret is this: whenever you want to use a negative label to accurately describe a child’s behavior (i.e. “rude”), replace the label with the exact opposite word. For example, instead of saying to Junior, “You are being rude,” you can say, “You need to be polite when speaking to me.”  Always use the desired label instead of the offensive label. In this way, your children only hear your target words (your goals for them) throughout their 20 years growing up with you. This helps program their brains to remember your goals. Positive labels encourage positive growth whereas negative labels work the opposite way. If all your children hear is “stupid,” “lazy,” “selfish,” “wild” and so on, they will associate those words with their identity and all they are capable of being.

A few more examples of label switching are below:

  • messy becomes clean and tidy
  • disorganized becomes organized
  • selfish becomes generous
  • careless becomes careful

Your sentence then changes from, “You’re acting like a baby” to “I know that you know how to be mature. Please act that way now.”  Similarly, you can change “You’re being nasty to your brother,” to “Please be kind to your brother.”

Direct Teaching Techniques
Now that you have provided the model (and by the way, this also means that you don’t call your spouse or other people names), you are ready to teach your children. The following process can be used:

  1. Explain to your children that name-calling hurts and is harmful. Tell them that they must express their annoyance, frustration or upset simply by naming their feelings without adding insults. For example, it is fine to say to a sibling, “I disagree,” or “I don’t like what you did,” or “I don’t like your idea,” “Stop doing that” and so on.
  2. Make a clear consequence for name-calling. Whenever someone insults another person, they will have receive a previously established consequence of your choice. Tell the child what consequence he will receive for name-calling in the future and then give him that consequence after subsequent name-calling. For a complete list of appropriate negative consequences and the exact way in which they should be applied for name-calling, see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe.
  3. Apply the selected consequence EVERY TIME you hear name-calling.  If improvement doesn’t happen over a few weeks, select a different consequence and try again.

Ridding your house of name-calling is a service to your family and even to your grandchildren, as the inter-generational chain of verbal abuse stops with your new programme. Good luck!

Conflict and Competition Between Siblings

Siblings fight. They compete, they argue and they love each other too. In fact, siblings often have complicated relationships. Unfortunately, parents cannot control how siblings will feel about each other, much as they wish that they could. Just like kids hate to see their parents fighting, parents hate to see their kids fighting; everyone’s ideal is a home filled with harmony and love. Although it’s not practical to expect perfection, parents can certainly do their best to help foster a civil, respectful and even caring relationship between siblings.

To help minimize conflict and encourage a cooperative and pleasant family atmosphere, consider the following tips:

It’s Normal for Kids to Fight
Kids are not born mature. They are likely to fight over toys, clothing and other belongings, as well as property and space. Fighting involves yelling, name-calling, pushing, grabbing and other aggressive or unpleasant communication strategies. It’s up to parents to gradually teach kids to express themselves in more civilized and polite ways: speak in a normal tone of voice, use normal language, ask for what you want, negotiate respectfully. Expect kids to fight and expect to have to TEACH them how to resolve conflict respectfully.

Teach in a Teaching Moment
Provide education only when everyone is calm. Have a curriculum and present it in “teaching moments” – times when you and the kids are not upset or roused up. When the kids are fighting, your first goal is to end the fight. Break them up, send them to different rooms, ask them to calm down. When they’re feeling a bit better, help them resolve the particular issue they’ve been fighting about. Later that day or even the next day, sit them down to teach them how to resolve conflict. Choose a time when everyone is alert but calm – right after a meal for example.

Give Them a Strategy
Lay down the rules: no name-calling, no violence, no rough stuff. Yes normal tone of voice, yes listening to each other, yes asking for what you want.

Offer a strategy for stopping a fight in mid-air. For instance, if one child is yelling or name-calling, show how the other one can help turn the volume back down to normal by speaking calmly and slowly in response instead of responding in the same hostile and emotionally volatile way. Show that them that each child has the power to determine the “flavor” of the communication – each one has the power to set the tone.

When they’re calm enough, they can begin the problem-solving process. Teach the kids to take turns listening to each other’s point of view. Teach them to negotiate – work out a deal that brings some benefit to each of them (i.e yes you can use the computer now if you give me 15 extra minutes later tonight). You might look at some negotiating books yourself in order to get some good ideas for the kids. If they’re old enough, ask them to read up on negotiating skills and then discuss what they’re learning at the dinner table each night for a couple of weeks. It can be a fun discussion for everyone. You can also look at marriage books to get ideas, since you are likely to find rules for fair fighting and constructive negotiating in those books as well.

Be sure to let them know that if they get stuck in their problem-solving attempts, they can call parents for assistance.

Encourage and Carry Through
After teaching children how to negotiate and cooperate, you can reinforce positive sibling behaviors using the CLeaR Method (for details, see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice, by Sarah Chana Radcliffe). The letters C, L, and R stand for comment, label and reward. When you see the kids getting along, working out details, sharing nicely and engaging in other desirable sibling behaviors, make sure to comment on this. “You guys figured that out really nicely,” “I like the way you two are playing together,” “You spoke in a very respectful way – good for you!” Tell them what KIND of behavior they did, using a label: “That was very cooperative/respectful/patient” and so on. Once in awhile, actually reward the behavior: “I think you both deserve an extra story at bedtime for that.”

Use positive attention only for the first while after you’ve taught the kids how to get along. However, if fighting is still going on after some time, use discipline as well, in the form of the 2X-Rule (see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice). Tell the kids that name-calling, hitting, yelling and other unacceptable behaviors will be penalized with a negative consequence each time they occur. You don’t care WHY they occurred – you’ll look into that AFTER the consequence is finished. Your rule will be “there is no excuse or justifiable reason for abusive behavior in this house.” After the consequence has been given, you can certainly sit down with the kids to see what went wrong with their negotiations and try to improve your protocols so that the problem can be avoided in the future. For instance, maybe you forgot to include instructions as to what to do when a sibling starts getting physical. Add in the new considerations (i.e. call Mommy or Daddy/leave the room quickly/call for help).

Be a Role Model
Show them how mature people resolve disputes! Don’t let your kids see, hear or discover that you and your spouse are fighting destructively. They are likely to copy your style. Instead, disagree respectfully and negotiate fairly. Show your kids what you want them to do in similar situations.

Celebrate Each Child
When each child in the family feels seen, loved and appreciated, there tends to be a little less sibling conflict. Highlight the special qualities of each child out loud, helping the whole family to recognize the special strengths of each member. Try calling the kids by the family last name to reinforce positive group identity (i.e. “Calling all little Goldhars for dinner!”).

Teach Your Kids to Support Each Other
When a child has succeeded in some undertaking, encourage the whole family to celebrate (“Let’s all take Ginger out for dinner for getting that great mark on her difficult science test!”). When every child benefits from the other child’s success, competition is reduced. Instead each one is genuinely happy for the accomplishments of the other. “How about making a card for your brother to tell him how proud you are of his winning team!”

In addition, when a child is in need of support, encourage the others to give it. “Cindy isn’t feeling well. Would you like to make her some cookies to cheer her up?” “Brian is feeling sad after losing the game; would you like to cheer him up with a game of chess?”

Although it’s not fully within the control of parents to determine how siblings get along, parents can encourage, teach and facilitate skills for healthy sibling relationships.

Dealing with Jealous Feelings

There are always people who have more than us – just like there are always those who have less. Unfortunately, instead of feeling grateful for having more than others do, it is all too easy for children, teens and even adults to feel jealous of those who have more. Jealous feelings are not only unpleasant to experience, but also potentially destructive; the emotion can transform otherwise well-behaved youngsters into “green-eyed monsters” who behave very badly. “Why does HE have more! It isn’t fair!” can be followed by grabbing whatever it is out of the child’s hand. Older kids may react by snubbing or mocking others – or worse. It’s important then that parents teach their children how to manage jealousy and envy from an early age.

If your child experiences jealousy feelings, consider the following tips:

Be “Fair” not “Equal”
In your home, make it a priority to meet the individual needs of family members. If one child needs new shoes, he or she gets them – but there is no need to get shoes for another child in the family who does not currently need them. Getting both children shoes would be trying to make things “equal” whereas getting each child shoes when they’re needed is “fair.” When the child asks “Why does SHE get new shoes and I don’t?” you can answer “because SHE needs shoes now and you don’t.  When YOU need shoes, you’ll be getting them – I promise!” In other words, everyone will get what they need at the right time.

When serving dessert, refrain from taking out the ruler to make sure everyone gets the exact same size piece of cake. “He has a bigger piece!” can be answered with “It all works out in the end – sometimes his piece is a bit bigger and sometimes yours is the bigger one.” Your relaxed attitude and your refusal to try to make things equal can help a child learn that equality is not really necessary.

Easy & Difficult Children
Most parents do not have difficulty treating their kids approximately the same – giving each approximately (not exactly!) the same kind of wardrobe, the same types of privileges and so on. Where parents might experience a greater challenge would be in the way they treat favored and not-favored children. For instance, it is just easier to smile at, joke around with and complement easy-going, cooperative children. More challenging children tend to earn themselves more criticism, complaint and negativity. Treating the “easy” child and the “difficult” child the same is quite a challenge – but try to do it anyway. Children are VERY sensitive. The difficult child doesn’t want to be difficult (no matter what it looks like to you); he or she is suffering from some internal challenge. The child can easily see that you like a sibling more and the subsequent jealousy and hurt can be very destructive. It’s O.K. to ACT more loving than you feel; care less about the risk of possible deception and more about the devastating effects of parental rejection. And, of course, it is essential to avoid making comparisons between the children. Each one needs to be celebrated according to his or her OWN milestones and accomplishments.

Boost Your Child’s Self-Esteem
As much as you can, emphasize, acknowledge and celebrate each of your children’s strengths — let them know that they are people of worth and value. Show them everyday how much they matter to you. Furthermore, communicate that everyone is unique, with their own gifts and charisms. A sibling may be a better singer, but it doesn’t mean that one is inferior or lacking. Perhaps one’s talent lies elsewhere! Having cute nicknames that highlight each child’s strength and unique identity can help – only if the child identifies positively with his or her nickname. For instance, in one family, we might have “Canary Carol” or sings so beautifully and “Hammer Henry” who is a very competent young handyman. Avoid potentially insulting labels like “Brainy Ben” – the brains in the family and his less bright sister “Beautiful Betty” – it is much more important to highlight Betty’s strongpoints in skill, talent and personality than just her exterior looks. Everyone has some speciality – finding one of your child’s many strong points highlights this fact and reduces insecurity and jealousy.

Most importantly, encourage your child to celebrate the sibling’s successes and strengths. Help your kids to feel the joy of pride in a sibling’s accomplishment – whether it is the building of a tall block tower or winning on the debating team. Encourage a family feeling of group identification: “You little Rosses are all adorable!” (or brilliant, super, thoughtful, etc.). Also encourage each child to bring gifts for the others in the family – “Did you get candy when you went to see Grandma today? Why don’t you offer some to your brother?” Follow up with the CLeaR Method (comment, label reward – see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe for details). “You shared so nicely. That was so generous of you! I think you both deserve to go to the park with Mommy this afternoon.”

Name and Accept Feelings
When your child expresses a jealous feeling, refrain from reprimanding him. A feeling is just a feeling – just name it:  “Yes, I understand that you’d like new shoes now too. It’s hard to wait. It doesn’t seem fair.”  Without using the word “but” make a new sentence to continue your thoughts: “You’ll be getting new shoes when you need them. Remember how you got shoes in the summer but no one else in the family did? That’s because YOU needed them and they didn’t. Everyone gets shoes when they need them.”

Discipline Misbehavior
While feelings are all acceptable, behaviors may not be. If your jealous child lashes out at you or a sibling, the misbehavior needs correction. “I understand that you wanted his toy. You cannot grab it from him – you need to wait your turn. From now on, when you grab things away from him, you won’t get your turn at all that day.” (See the 2X-Rule of discipline in Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice.)

Consider Bach Flower Therapy
The Bach Flower Remedy called “Holly” can help ease jealous and angry feelings. This harmless, water-based remedy can help “turn off” the tendency to fall into jealousy (learn more about Bach Flowers in “Bach Flower Remedies” on this site).

Consider Professional Help
If your child is really suffering jealous feelings and your interventions are not helping, do consult a mental health professional for further guidance.

Child Wakes Baby

Picture this scene: You’ve just finished spending 45 minutes of gentle rocking and singing to put your baby to sleep. But the effort is well worth it. Finally, you can get some well-deserved rest. You may even be able to catch up on your reading. Except… your thoughts are suddenly interrupted by a loud and demanding cry on the baby monitor. Your older child has just woken the baby up! Beyond frustrated, you get up, drag your feet to the nursery, and start the bedtime ritual all over again.

Why does this keep happening? Why can’t your older child just let the baby sleep? Consider the following:

Your Child is Bored
Sometimes, your child disturbs your sleeping baby out of simple boredom. With nothing interesting to do, kids look for diversions (the baby is an excellent distraction!) and even company. They may even want to play with their sibling, but don’t have the patience to wait until their brother or sister is awake. If this is the case, the best thing for a parent to do is find ways to engage their child while the baby is sleeping.

There are many individual games – available in toy stores and online – designed to challenge a child’s intellectual and motor development. Have these games or activities handy; they can be used to entertain bored children so that they don’t become disruptive while you are busy trying to settle the baby. Sometimes, you may be able to arrange play dates to time with your infant’s regular sleeping schedule. If you’re fortunate, there may be another adult around who can spend time with your child while you are occupied.

Your Child Doesn’t Understand Why the Baby Must Sleep
It’s tempting to reprimand or punish a child for waking up the baby, especially when he or she ends up creating so more work for the parent. But it’s important for parents to remember that the younger a child is, the less likely he or she understands why the baby’s sleep is so important. Try to explain to your child what sleep does, in a manner appropriate to his or her age. For example, parents can share with a toddler how babies become healthier when they sleep because their tiny cells grow and become stronger. If you can inject your explanation with a lot of visual imagery (you can even draw a cell growing bigger and bigger), your child will likely develop a healthy respect for sleep. Who knows, your little talk might make it easier for you to put them to bed as well!

Your Child is Acting Out
A new baby can be threatening; your child may be feeling jealousy and resentment against the infant and, out of that anger, WANTS to disturb the baby’s peace. Perhaps you’ve been accidentally giving the youngster too much negative attention which can lead to more misbehavior. In this case, carefully reduce the amount of negative feedback you are giving him (like telling him “no” or “don’t do that” or “you’ll be punished if you continue to do that,” etc.). Instead, use the CLeaR Method of positive guidance, filling your conversation with positive comments, positive labels and even positive rewards (see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe for more information about the Clear Method). Use the CLeaR Method to specifically reinforce your child’s patience at letting the baby sleep – give PLENTY of positive attention whenever your child manages to walk by the sleeping infant without waking him.

Keep in mind, too, that your child may be seeking your attention simply because he feels a little lost in all the fuss over the new family member. Indeed, you may be too tired to give him as much time and attention as you did before the baby was born and the mischievous child is just trying to reclaim his place in your heart (albeit the wrong way). He or she may feel that the only time you pay attention is when the baby is awake, which is why the baby must be awake all the time. If you think that this could be the problem, redouble your efforts to talk to this youngster during the day (just give him a little more eye contact and a little more verbal contact) and try to do something to make him feel special at least once a day (i.e. make chocolate milk “just for him” or play a short game with him or draw a funny picture for him or sit down and read him a story in the middle of the day, etc.) Keep in mind that if your new baby has made you feel more stressed than usual, your child may be reacting to your increased stress level with his own brand of misbehavior. Perhaps you need more household help,more time out of the house or something else in order to put YOU in a better mood. This might indirectly help your child stop seeking negative attention in the form of waking the baby.

You Have Not Yet Established Your Parental Authority
It is possible that the one who wakes up the baby is really old enough to know better. No matter how many times you tell him to let the baby sleep, he ignores you. He may even think it’s funny to defy his parents and get a reaction from the baby. In this case, it is possible that you have not yet established your authority. Review the 2X-Rule (see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice) – a quiet, respectful, firm method of discipline that helps reduce misbehavior. When the child wakes the baby, he receives an appropriate  negative consequence. You have to be consistent with this, making sure that the child receives the consequence over and over again. However, if after 3 or 4 consequences he is not improving, then continue with the general structure of discipline, replacing your ineffective punishment with a different one that might be more effective. Use each consequence 3 or 4 times and monitor your results. You will eventually find the punishment that motivates this youngster to let his new sibling sleep! When using the 2X-Rule, make sure that you are careful to maintain a high ratio of positive attention at the same time (use the 80-20 Rule in order to ensure the effectiveness of discipline).

Your Child May Have A Defiant Nature
It could be that there’s nothing more that you can do behaviorally – your child is simply unresponsive to normal interventions. If this is the case, consider Bach Flower Therapy. The Bach remedy Holly for jealousy can be helpful along with Vine (for being strong-willed and doing what he wants to do no matter what), Chestnut Bud (for being unresponsive to discipline and guidance and Walnut (for adjusting to changes in the home). Using the remedies for a few weeks or a few months can help ease the child out of his stuck and unhappy place to a more cooperative, happier one! Put all the remedies in one mixing bottle filled with water – 2 drops of each. Add a bit of brandy (1/2  a teaspoon to prevent the growth of bacteria) and give your child 4 drops in a bit of liquid (milk, chocolate milk, juice, soup, water, soda etc.) 4 times a day with or without food. You can find more information about the Bach Flower Remedies online and throughout this site.

Seek Professional Guidance
If nothing seems to work and the child is still waking a sibling, consider consulting a mental health professional who can take a closer look at what is going on and help design a uniquely tailored intervention.

Child Hurts the New Baby

It is common for toddlers and small kids to be rough with a new baby.  They sometimes hug the infant a little too long or a little too hard (or both). Sometimes they pinch, squeeze or even hit the poor little baby. What prompts them to behave this way? What can parents do about it?

If your little one is hurting the new baby, consider the following tips:

Don’t Ask Why
Toddlers don’t know why they hurt the baby, so don’t bother asking them why they are being so rough. For instance, don’t say, “Why do you do that? Don’t you love your new sister?”  Your youngster has no insight into the matter. In fact, when your child approaches the baby to touch her soft skin or look at her big eyes, he generally has no intention of hurting her. However, within moments, “something” overtakes him and his arms lash out as if they are running on their own power. When his parents start yelling at him for hurting the baby, he is often genuinely surprised at the sudden turn of events. Why is everyone mad at him again? Why did his arms do that?

Inner Conflict
Since it isn’t the conscious mind that is misbehaving, there is really no point in talking to the toddler’s conscious mind. That is, don’t waste your time telling him to be nice to the baby or not to hurt the baby. Don’t ask him why he is hurting the baby. None of this will help at all.

Instead, it’s more helpful to work with the unconscious mind. The toddler’s behavior is showing what the unconscious mind is feeling: anger. The youngster has been replaced with a special little bundle that is demanding everyones attention. This is making the toddler feel displaced, ignored, neglected, sad and jealous. But it is also making him mad. He wants to get rid of this intruder who is ruining his party.

Parents can speak directly to the unconscious mind by naming the anger. “Oh, I see that there’s a part of you that is mad at Baby Jenny.” (This statement is very true. Only part of your toddler resents the baby. Other parts of your child are both loving and intensely protective of the infant.) After naming the feeling, you can try to help the mad and hurting part: “We can’t hurt the baby. What we CAN do is make your mad part feel better.  Would you feel better if you could sit in Mommy’s lap for awhile? Do you need some more stories or maybe a treat?” and so on.  Acknowledging, accepting and addressing the pain of the hurting part helps the hurting part to calm down.

Avoid Punishment
Interestingly, direct interventions like punishment generally have no positive effect on rough toddler behavior. In fact, the more the parents punish a toddler for hurting a baby, the more the toddler tends to hurt the baby. Sometimes, giving positive attention for GENTLE behavior can be helpful in reducing rough behavior. Try using the CLeaR Method – comment, label, reward (see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice for details). “You’re touching the baby so softly. That’s so gentle of you – what a good brother you are. I think that deserves a big kiss/extra story/etc.”

Help the Child Bond with the New Baby
Allowing your older child to still be a baby can help reduce feelings of anger, insecurity and jealousy. Refer to your little ones (the new baby and the other children) as “little ones” – as in, “Good Morning, Little Guys! How are all my little people doing this morning?” By linking the other small children with the baby, the children feel that they haven’t lost out – they are still loved in that special baby-love way. In fact, be careful not to promote the small children to “big boy” or “big girl” now that the baby is here – unless they’re teenagers, they aren’t big yet! Let the whole group be little and you’re more likely to see a strong, loving bond forming between the children and the baby and a little less likely to see physical aggression.

Interestingly, it’s best NOT to give an older child more individual attention at this time because this behavior sends the message that there is not enough love to go around. Instead, try to include the older ones with the baby in one big, happy family. “Let’s take the baby to the park with us,” or “Let’s let the baby read the book with us,” or “Let’s let the baby watch us bake today” are all inclusive statements that show the child that you will not abandon the baby and you will not abandon him. Inclusiveness increases the older child’s sense of security and reduces his feelings of insecure competition with the baby.

Consider Bach Flower Remedies
Bach Flower Remedies can often help reduce aggressive and jealous behaviors. Just add two drops of this harmless tincture to a bit of liquid (juice, soda, water, milk, chocolate milk or anything else), 4 times a day until the behavior is no longer a problem. The remedies are available in health food stores and on-line. Of the 38 Remedies in the Bach system, try  Holly (for jealousy) and Vine (for aggressive behavior). If you like, you can mix both together in a Bach Mixing Bottle (an empty glass bottle with a glass dropper, available where the remedies are sold). Put two drops of each remedy in the small mixing bottle along with water and about a tsp of brandy (to help prevent bacteria in the bottle). From the mixing bottle, drop 4 drops in liquid, 4 times a day until the behavior is no longer a problem. Read more about Bach Flower Remedies on this site, online and through self-help books. Alternatively, call a Bach Flower Practitioner to help select individually tailored remedies. Bach Remedies are excellent to try when you are worried that your toddler may really hurt your baby – particularly because toddlers are usually too young for therapy.

What to Do In the Moment
Speak slowly and firmly when correcting your youngster, but refrain from showing real upset. Of course, protect the baby! Try not to allow the older child to be alone with the little one. However, as you probably know all too well, your toddler can hurt the baby even while the baby is being held in your arms! When that happens, stand up and move out of the child’s reach without saying a word.  Withdrawing attention by this quiet move is more effect than looking the little one in the eye and shouting “NO!” Don’t actually ignore your child – just lightly remove yourself and the baby for a few moments. You are trying to keep the infant safe while you are minimizing negative attention to the older one. Make a simple rule and repeat it as necessary: “Gentle with the baby.” Refrain from the negative version (“We don’t hurt the baby”) because this is likely to get translated by the toddler’s highly emotional brain as an instruction TO hurt the baby!

Patience is Required
It’s unpleasant but normal for toddlers and preschoolers to hurt a new baby. Showing your understanding is an important way to help start building your child’s emotional intelligence. Although a child’s rough behavior is very upsetting to parents, it’s important that parents not make matters worse by showing anger or becoming very punitive. Patience is required! With your gentle approach, chances are that your toddler will move through his upset feelings and aggressive behavior much more quickly.

Reducing Stress at Family Gatherings

While the idea of happy family gatherings is heartwarming, the reality of these get-togethers is more complex. Family gatherings can be fun or they can be stressful. They can be uplifting or maddening – or they might be a little of everything! It all depends on who is in the family and how you feel about them. Family members are people who are thrown together by birth and marriage; they are not like friends we have carefully chosen. These are people we must deal with whether we like them or not. Quite often, there are difficult people included in the group who may have caused us pain and aggravation. Usually, there is one or more person who has hurt us and disappointed us and there are some others who are just plain annoying.  Fortunately, there are also likely to be some who we truly enjoy being around. All of these “loved ones” come together for family celebrations and holidays to enjoy feelings of closeness and community.

Let’s look at some tips for minimizing stress and increasing the pleasure of these gatherings.

Family Relationships are Important to Kids
Children are nourished by family gatherings. The extended circle of love makes them feel secure in a world which is often fragmented and isolated. The ritual celebration of holidays brings a sense of stability and meaning to the child’s world. If your children are going to experience the family scene, you can help to make it as positive as possible for them by keeping your negative thoughts to yourself. Children do not benefit from hearing how you can’t stand the sight of Uncle Joe or how you will not be talking to Cousin May. If you have any conflicts with any family members, try to keep them under wraps for the duration of the gathering. Kids don’t have to know all of your business. Even if YOU don’t like a certain family member, you can still allow your child to enjoy that person’s company. (If you think that anyone is a threat of any kind to your child’s well-being, either don’t invite the person or don’t allow your child to attend the event).

Prepare Kids in Advance
Let your children know what you expect of them in advance. If there are rules you wish to establish (no yelling, running, cursing, grabbing or whatever), tell them before the gathering. You can also warn them that there will be negative consequences AFTER the gathering if they misbehave. Try very hard not to discipline children during a gathering as the embarrassment they feel can harm them. Of course, you’ll need to be realistic too – children who are seeing their cousins and other relatives can get over-excited and a bit wild. From their point of view, they may be having the time of their lives. Simply remind them quietly to settle down if necessary.

Do Not Disturb the Festive Atmosphere
Refrain from anything that might contribute to tension at the gathering. Don’t talk about “hot” topics. Don’t correct your spouse in public. Don’t criticize anyone or anything. Don’t argue with a relative about anything – it isn’t worth it. Your job is to keep the gathering upbeat and positive. This is a party! Keeping it this way is your gift to your children.

Teenagers are Independent
Often, teens go through a period where they don’t want to attend family gatherings. Usually this is temporary. Once they have found a life partner or  have kids of their own, they’ll be very interested in family gatherings again. Meanwhile, you can ask your teens to please attend for a short while and then allow them to go to do their own activities whether that involves leaving the house to be with their own friends or going to their own rooms to pursue their own activities. If your teen really doesn’t want to come for even 5 minutes, don’t push it; this may change by the next gathering or over the course of the next few years. As long as you report having a great time, the door remains open for your teen or young adult to join you on another occasion. If your adolescents are happy to attend the gathering – that’s great! You might even put them to work! At this age, they can help with serving and clearning or table setting or whatever. Try to listen to their ideas and suggestions and implement them, giving them a voice in how things will be set  up, arranged or conducted. This can help them “own” the scene and enjoy it even more. If you are at another relative’s home, encourage your teens to offer their assistance. This is sure to earn them positive feedback, helping them to feel important in the family scheme of things. But don’t over do it – a few minutes of helping is all that is necessary. Let your teens just relax and talk to people. Welcome them in joining the “grownups” in more adult conversation if they show an interest to be there. If they want to hang with the young people, be careful not to correct them or criticize them in front of others. No warnings not to drink too much and so on – do all of that in private before you get to the party. This is not the time to be “parental.” Just smile and wave!  By treating your teens as if they are no longer little kids, you can help them become “young ladies and gentlemen” within the family context – you are promoting them to the next level. When they experience their enhanced status, they are more likely to want to attend future gatherings.

New Baby in the Family

The arrival of a new baby can be threatening to an older sibling. After being the sole apple of parents’ eyes, a new “creature” suddenly taking all the attention can trigger jealousy, anger and sadness. Younger children may fear that parents will no longer love them once the new baby settles in. They may also develop resentment over having to give up certain things, like sole use of a a bedroom or a particular game or activity.

What can parents do to help their young children adjust to the arrival of a new baby? Consider the following tips:

Prepare Your Children
The best way to buffer a child’s anxiety is to not blindside them with the changes that are coming. In the last trimester of pregnancy, inform your children what to expect. Show them pictures and videos of infant development – your library and the internet are great resources! Emphasize that babies are helpless, and therefore will need a lot of mommy and daddy’s care (just as they did at that stage): they need to be fed, held, changed, burped, dressed, bathed and all the rest. Let them know that it won’t always be that way because babies turn into toddlers and kids who can feed themselves, dress themselves and use the toilet.

Give Your Children Responsibilities
Kids may feel less left out, if they know they have a role to play in the new family structure. New responsibilities can make children feel needed – indispensable and appreciated –  unlike the baby who just cries and cries! Kids can assist in many ways; during feeding, bathing and dressing the baby. Just remember to thank and compliment them for a job well done! Also, if these “helpers” are little guys themselves, make sure to allow them to continue to be little in their own right. A two year old, for instance, is not a big girl! She is “Mommy’s best little helper.” When a toddler or pre-schooler is allowed to enjoy the benefits of littleness even though a baby has entered the family, the young child suffers much less. She is not “de-throned” or promoted beyond her stage of life. She continues to be loved and coddled as the little person she truly is, even though there is now an even littler person in the house as well.

Highlight the Positive
It’s fine to talk about the benefits of siblings that will eventually come. Remember – it takes a really long time (especially from a child’s perspective) before a sibling can become a fun playmate. However, it is certainly something to look forward to. “Just think – one day you and little Joe will be able to play ball together! Won’t that be fun?”

Explain Why Rules can be Bent for the Baby
One of the common causes of resentment against a new baby is perceived preferential treatment. A 7 month old baby who accidentally breaks his or her older sibling’s toy is not likely to be reprimanded; after all, what does the baby know? Instead, the older sibling may even get the brunt of the blame, for handing the toy to the baby to begin with! It’s important then for parents to explain to their older children that babies are not accountable for what they do, and it’s up to bigger people to make sure that they do not get in harm’s way.

Spend  Quality Time with Your Older Children While You Hold the Baby
Jealousy can be minimized if parents ensure that they don’t neglect their older children. It’s understandable that parents are overwhelmed and exhausted after bringing a new baby into the family. However, the other child or children still need so much parental attention. Put the baby on your lap and invite the others around for storytime. Or, put the baby in the stroller and take the others to the park. Or, wear the baby in a carrier and take the others to the mall. Babies just need to be held, and older children just need to be interacted with – so it can all happen at the same time. There is no need to leave the baby at home while you take the others out. In fact, this can increase insecurity in the other children as they see for themselves that you are willing to abandon your infant. Little kids are more than happy to have the baby come along and be involved in all their activities. They love the feeling of being one big happy family.

New Mothers Need Extra Rest
Sometimes this temporary absence leaves toddlers and pre-schoolers feeling abandoned. One way around this is to invite little ones to lie down for nap time in Mom’s room (if they’re the cooperative types) or to make sure they are with a favorite babysitter or engaged in a special activity while Mom naps. This may be the time to invest in a new toy, craft kit, computer game or video.

Remember to “Gush” Over the Toddlers as Well as the Baby
One way to do this is to talk to the baby “through” the toddler. “Look Tara! Do you see that cute face baby Jon just made? Isn’t he funny?” This is preferrable to ignoring Tara while talking directly to the baby. In the latter scenario, Tara is likely to feel ignored or less important or less adored; her “solution” might be to try to get your attention inappropriately.

Cut Them Some Slack When They Act Out
When there is a new baby in the household, kids may act-out to demand your attention. They may regress behaviorally, and act as if they are infants themselves. They may misbehave at home or school. Understand that all these mini-rebellions are just means of expressing their upset feelings (confusion, fear, sadness and anger); be extra patient and ignore the bad stuff as much as you can for a couple of months. Once the baby has become “old news,” you can return to normal standards of discipline.

Takes Siblings Belongings

“Mom! Laurie stole my hairbrush!”

“I did not!”

“You did too! Who else would take it?”

“I just borrowed for a minute. Why are you so selfish?”

When it comes to personal property, boundaries between siblings can be hard to define. After all, in a family there is such a thing as communal property: what is mine is also yours. And sharing is a virtue all parents want to encourage in their children.

But no matter how close siblings are, respect of individuality (and hence, personal property) is important. Children must be allowed to set limitations that they are comfortable with — it’s part of their journey to selfhood.

So how are parents to handle situation of “stealing” between siblings? Consider the following tips:

Explain the Importance of Ownership
Many kids are simply unaware that siblings can feel proprietorial about their personal belonging. For instance, kids might wonder: “What’s the big deal about lending a CD anyway?” It’s important  for parents to explain that an object need not be valuable materially for it to be precious to a person. It may have a sentimental value to its owner, or the owner simply wants their possessions placed exactly where they left it. When kids understand how important property is to people, they can be more respectful of their sibling’s things.

Teach Skills in Being a Good Borrower
If a child really wants something from their sibling, the best thing they can do is ask for it! Teach your child good borrowing skills such as asking permission to borrow in a pleasant way, taking good care of borrowed property, not lending borrowed property without the owner’s permission and returning borrowed property promptly as promised. If a person has proven to be a good borrower, they’re easy to trust. Trustworthy borrowers get to borrow more often.

Clarify That a “No” is a “No.”
It is important for parents teach their children that taking property without permission is called stealing. Parents can convey the following information to their kids: “If you borrow something, and your sibling says “no,” you cannot just go and help yourself to it anyway. Perhaps the object just can’t be lent or given away and in any event, it’s the owner’s right to say no. The borrower simply has to accept the owner’s decision. If this is the case, then find other, more acceptable ways of getting what you want. Perhaps you can save money to buy what you need, or maybe you can borrow it from someone else. You may also just be creative and find ways to make do with what you don’t have. Stealing is a serious offense that violates people’s rights and it is simply not an option.”

Model Respect of Property
If you want to teach your children to respect their sibling’s property, you have to respect their property too. It’s not easy to think of young children as having property (since you bought them everything they have!) but many things are their personal belongings that might have personal value to them. So don’t just take (or worse, throw!) their things without permission, or re-arrange their belongings even if you are in the process of cleaning their rooms. Doing so may convey to kids that private property is not really important. Put questionable items in a pile and ask the kids about them, involving them in the sorting and discarding process.  When kids feel that respect of property is a family value, they are more likely to follow suit.

Use Discipline When Necessary
If a child repeatedly takes things without permission, use your normal process of discipline (i.e. the 2X-Rule, as explained in detail in Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe). When you decide to use this rule, you always start with Step One, even though you’ve already told your child many times that he must not take property without permission. Wait until the child takes something one more time and then apply Step One. It might sound like this, “You are not allowed to take someone’s property without their permission because everyone has the right to decide whether or not to share their private belongings. If you don’t have permission, do not touch what doesn’t belong to you.” Wait until a child takes something again, and then apply Step Two. Step Two involves saying the exact same thing you said at step one and adding a warning that future stealing will result in a punishment (name the exact punishment you have in mind, taking care to make it severe enough that it will motivate the child to refrain from stealing in the future). If the child ever steals again, apply the punishment.

Consider a Cry for Attention
Is stealing from siblings a recurring behavior that persists despite your interventions? Then perhaps it’s time to consider a cry for help. Your child can be stealing to get negative attention; he may be feeling insecure and has resorted to misbehaving to get help. Or he may be suffering from a condition called kleptomania – a compulsive desire to steal in order to relieve anxiety. The best help will come from a child psychologist or another mental health professional.

Child Doesn’t Want to Include Siblings with Friends

Understandably, siblings don’t always want to share the same set of friends. This is particularly true when siblings have a big age difference between them. However, there are practical issues to contend with. What happens when an 8 year-old child invites a friend to play and the child’s 6 year-old sister wants to join in the game? What happens when twins have friends over – do they get to have individual relationships or must they share all their social contacts? When one child in the family is happily occupied with a friend, what is the parent’s obligation to the child who is left out? Must Mom provide personal entertainment?

The following are some tips in handling the situation when your child doesn’t want siblings to join his or her social arrangements:

Respect Your Children’s Right to Make Social Arrangements
From the very beginning, it’s important that parents give their children privacy and autonomy in arranging their social life. Having friends is important to anyone, and social skills are something that will serve a child throughout his or her life. Ideally, each child in the family should learn how to invite friends over and how to be a good host or hostess, instead of relying on their siblings to provide them with social stimulation. Often it is possible to have each child invite a friend on a given afternoon. For instance, you might set aside Sunday afternoons for playtime in which you expect your kids to find a friend to invite and/or allow them to go out to their friends’ houses (or, when older, out with their friends). Children who are not in the mood to put in the effort to make this happen must arrange their own schedule of activities rather than impose on their sibling’s social engagement. For instance, another child can work on puzzles, play on the computer, read or whatever. It is NOT necessary for the parent to provide entertainment. However, if the lonely child has tried to make social plans that just didn’t work out, there is nothing wrong with the parent pitching in to help liven up the afternoon (i.e. set up a special video, engage the child in a baking activity in the kitchen, or even take the child on an outing). When the left-out sibling in question is too young to make his or her own social arrangements, the parent should try to make such arrangements or provide activities for that child to participate in while siblings are busy with their friends.

But Also Encourage Generosity and Kindness
That being said, encourage your children to recognize and affirm a sibling’s request to be part of their social life. On occasion, it may be possible, as an act of kindness, for a sibling to allow other kids in the family to join in his or her social activity. In fact, sometimes it’s a case of “the more, the merrier.” Certain games are more fun with more people in them. While a child is certainly entitled to private time with his or her friend, he or she can also invite a sib or two to play along for at least a small part of the visit. Encouraging kids to think of each other’s needs and to be kind to each other is important. You probably don’t want to raise selfish children who only think of their own needs. You can show your kids that they can meet their own needs AND also make others happy – it’s not a contradiction.

Encourage your Children to Make Time for One Another
If it’s not really possible to include a sibling in a social arrangement, then perhaps a separate arrangement can be made that would accommodate the said sibling. After all, while we have a right to choose our friends, it’s also great to spend time with our family. So encourage your children to make time for each other. A family day is a good idea; kids can spend time with the friends of their choosing on some days, while they can spend time with their siblings for another.

Helping Your Children Adjust to a New Baby in the House

How exciting! A new baby will soon claim his or her place in the family. Many children are thrilled at the idea. Only the idea. The reality of a new baby may affect them differently. New babies bring tired mommies and peanut-butter dinners. New babies makes lots of noise and demand tons of attention. What is the best way to help toddlers and pre-schoolers adapt to the change?

Helping the Little Ones Adjust
Little children who have only recently left their own “babyhoods” behind benefit from a gradual stepping down strategy. These guys used to be the ones who everyone wanted to hold and cuddle, patient play with and smother with kisses. Now they have to take a back seat to the new comer. Adding insult to injury, they are often rudely ousted from the protective shelter of babyhood into the cold, crueler world of childhood: “You’re a big boy now,” parents will tell them. “You’re Mommy’s helper.” Children of two, three, four and even five, are actually not all that big. Fifteen is big. Fifteen is sometimes taller than you are, but toddlers and pre-schoolers are still quite small. They are small in size and small emotionally — they are still babies.

Respecting the babyish quality of this young group helps little ones make a much better adjustment to the newborn. Call everyone under 6 “my baby.” If all your kids are under 6, you can greet them this way, “How are all my babies this morning?” “Did all my babies have a good sleep?” If one of these “babies” protests that she is not a baby, she is a big girl, then go with it. As long as the child promotes herself then she’s ready to move out of her babyhood. However, when the child is still 5 years old or less, you can offer to extend the pampered years a bit longer by correcting her: “O.K. You’re not a baby, but you’re not a big girl either. You’re my little girl. My sweet little girl.” Now you may be wondering why the mother would want to make a self-defining “big girl” into a “sweet little girl.” The reason is this: there is a very short period in life in which we can be coddled, protected and nurtured – completely taken care of. When we are not rushed through that tiny window of time, all of our needs for infantile nurturing will be met appropriately. If we can’t be little when we really are little, then we may end up being inappropriately little when we’re actually big. Have you ever seen an 8 year-old competing for attention with a baby? Have you ever seen a grown man or woman do the same? Sometimes teenagers insist that other people take care of them: wake them up, stay at home with them, plan their schedules and so on. Wouldn’t it be better for older children and people to be independent? Independence comes when all of our dependency needs are met. The time for dependence (and “littleness”) is in the first five years of life.

No Promotions
Therefore, let the little children in the family remain little, even when you bring home an even littler one. This is not the time to suddenly wean a child. This is not the time to take a child who was in your bed out of it. If at all possible, let some months go by before you make any changes in the lifestyle of the other little people. If a new baby will be born at just the time that a child will first start playgroup, try to have that child go to camp or a children’s program before the birth. If a child will be moving out of a crib, either wait a few months after the birth or change the bed before the birth. Anyone who is still eating baby food, sucking on pacifiers or wearing diapers, can still do so for some months after the birth. When life with the new baby has become routine again, any change that is needed can be addressed.

Enhance Group Bonding
In order to reduce jealous feelings, it’s helpful to adopt an inclusive “we” mentality regarding the baby. Instead of “I have to feed the baby now” it can be “We have to feed the baby now. Let’s go to the living room.” “We have to get the baby dressed—let’s find his undershirt.” This technique helps the children bond with the baby and with the family unit. Everyone is in this together.

In order to reduce competition, never blame the baby for having to neglect another child. Instead of “I can’t play with you right now because I have to take care of the baby” try “Let’s take care of the baby so we can sit down together and play.” Don’t mention the baby as the reason another child can’t have what she wants. Instead of “I was up with the baby all night and I’m too tired now to go to the zoo” just try, “We can’t go to the zoo today. We’ll go later this week.” Instead of “I can’t feed you until I finish feeding the baby,” just try “I’ll make your lunch soon.”

Finally, don’t leave the baby at home in order to have quality time with another child. This gives the older ones the impression that there is not enough love to go around and that everybody has to have a “turn.” It also makes older ones insecure, knowing that you are willing to leave the baby behind — it triggers their own abandonment fears. Security is increased when young children know their parents will bring the baby too; family outings include the baby.

These strategies can help little children have a smoother adjustment to the new baby. Keep in mind, however, that the individual nature of a child also plays a major role in his or her adjustment to change in general and to new siblings in particular. Some kids will just find it harder. Be gentle with yourself as a parent and gentle with the kids too. And don’t worry: soon the new baby will be the old baby and there will be other issues to address!