Hello, Faith:
I recently had my second child, and my formerly well-behaved 2-year-old has been acting out. She sometimes regresses (asks us to feed her her sippy cup, tries to sleep in the baby’s crib), but more often generally stirs up mischief. She hits and kicks us mostly, and refuses to do things that were normally part of our routine. I’ve looked into the typical responses: Spend alone time with her, have her help with the baby, try to make her feel important, address her needs before the baby’s… all of which I feel that we are doing. And when we discipline her for hitting with a time out or by telling her that the behavior is inappropriate, it doesn’t seem to have any effect. I don’t understand what we are doing wrong! Looking for suggestions on what to do.

Many thanks,

-Distressed

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Dear Distressed,
Thanks so much for contacting me.  You are doing all the right things, except I don’t necessarily think your older child’s needs should come before the infant’s needs (it will depend on the situation), but I’m sure you know that.

Your daughter is having difficulty adjusting to the current transition taking place in your home.  Some children have no trouble with transitions and others take a longer time to adjust.  Your daughter is taking out her frustration on you, and showing you that she is unhappy with the attention that you are giving to the baby by trying to get your attention.  You have a couple of choices to stop this behavior.  Basically the time honored method that I employ is to give attention to the behavior you want to promote and ignore the behavior that you want to extinguish.  Some behaviors should not be tolerated at all and must be stopped which are those that cause bodily harm or are destructive.  In my book, hitting causes bodily harm, and needs to be stopped.  So hitting behavior should be met with a firm “No” followed with removal from the room.  All children and people are social beings and want to be where the action is.  Another way to do this is to make a huge fuss over the person who was hurt while ignoring the hitter.  Therefore you are ignoring the behavior that you want to extinguish.  I also like to give children choices such as, “If you choose to get mad and hit when I am feeding your sister you will need to leave the room, if you play quietly, you can stay, you choose.”  A 2 year old is capable of making this decision.  If she starts to hit you say, “I see you decided to hit, so you can’t be in the room with us and escort her from the room.  The key here is consistency.  Follow through every time and she will know that her world is stable and consistent. It won’t take very many times before she understands.

By the way, this is the basis for all parenting.  If you learn it now, you will be on your way to being a Great Parent.
Take care,
Faith