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Toddler Tips

"But I want to play, too!"

From New Beginnings, Vol. 28 No. 3, 2009, pp. 36-37

"Toddler Tips" is a regular feature of the magazine New Beginnings, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of New Beginnings to help parents of toddlers. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's lifestyle. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.

Mother's Situation

My toddler is eager to explore, and often interrupts his older siblings' play in his attempt to figure out what they're doing. How can I help him explore appropriately while at the same time keeping the peace? I'd love to hear how other moms have coped with this stage.

Response

Toddlers do love to explore! They knock things over, mess things up and even break things at times! This can be quite frustrating for the older child(ren) in the family. One thing that has helped tremendously in our home isn't taming the toddler, but adjusting the older child(ren)'s perspective on the situation. Sweetly reminding the older child that "you did that when you were little, too" with a loving smile goes a long way in our home. Also, whispering to the older child "you are such a great older brother/sister to be so understanding of, or patient with, your little brother. That's what older children do, isn't it?" Saying "isn't your little brother cute when he says/does that" seems to help the older child see the toddler from our perspective and find joy in being the older sibling, watching the toddler rather than competing with him.

I hope you can find some of your own creative ways to emphasize to the older child(ren) the blessings of the little one in your family.

Cari Dierking
Simpsonville, SC, USA

Response

How about you set up your toddler in his own corner to play the same activity away from his siblings? For instance, if they are coloring give him his own spot, crayons, and paper. If they are playing a board game give him his own corner and his own game. Perhaps playing simultaneously nearby will make him feel included.

Dee Russell
Honeoye Fall, NY, USA

Response

This situation is challenging for parents and siblings alike. What worked for our family was to have something similar for the toddler to play alongside the older kids. We encouraged the older children to take turns interacting with the younger sibling and/or to find a way to incorporate the younger sibling into their activity. For instance, my son would play with his wooden Thomas trains and I would have his sister play with her bigger GeoTrax trains by making her track inside his so she was in the middle of his track. Of course, the toddler would sometimes try to put his trains on her track and I'd have to step in and help them to work it out and re-establish harmony. In my view, it's important -- especially for families like mine with four children -- that siblings learn how to function together even if they're not playing with each other.

It's worked fairly well for us. I've needed to make use of baby gates, which our older kids have on their bedrooms -- the walk-through kind so I'm not always having to put them up and down for them -- so that the eldest can enjoy his tiny Lego pieces.

I think it's equally important to teach siblings that there are times to be together and times to have space to be alone or to play with something just at their level. At those times, I try to sit down with some stories for the younger child and explain that the toy is for big kids. I show the toddler that there are toys for littler kids that the big kids don't play with, too.

This has worked well for us, given the dynamics in our family and the temperament of our children. Perhaps it may work for you, too.

Margo Trueman
Southern California, USA

Response

Having more than one child really adds another dimension to parenting, doesn't it? I find it helps my older daughter to help her to think about how to solve the problem. "Your little sister likes to explore and is interested in everything you do because she likes you so much. How can we let her explore and also let you play?" She might say, "Don't let my little sister touch my toys!" I would say, "Okay, what else could we do?" Sometimes she comes up with ideas that I would not have thought of. I offer some ideas of my own if needed and we decide on a solution that we both like.

Some possible solutions are to offer an appropriate toy to distract the baby, allow the baby to play alongside the older sibling, or have the older sibling keep any precious or dangerous toys in her room.

Cari Schnepp
Broomfield, CO, USA

Response

Whenever Lily is playing quietly with dolls or her toy horses, I have Lily give Helen one that she is not using. That way Helen feels like she is a part of whatever Lily is doing without actually interrupting. This seems to work for us. Good luck!

Aja Neidel
De Kalb, IL, USA

Response

Because your family dynamics change as your children grow, you might find it helpful to establish a safe time to work out family problems in ways that are not punitive in nature, but use values, principles, and consequences. Family meetings can help solve problems and clarify family values. The meetings show how you value everyone's opinions and teach how to reach solutions that everyone can buy into. Family meetings can be fun and easy and sometimes serious and difficult. Your children might even suggest one when they feel it's time for a meeting.

If the kids can carry on a conversation and sit still for a few minutes, they're ready to take part in a family meeting. Maybe start out with some basic and positive rules. For example, only one person is to talk at a time and everyone will have a turn. Perhaps make a positive statement you agree upon that reflects a family value you hope the children will incorporate into daily living. An easy place to start is the golden rule of treating others as you would like to be treated yourself: we will do our best to treat one another with kindness, fairness, and forgiveness.

Bring up the subject of the toddler disrupting the older children's play. "I've noticed a lot of fighting lately when your little brother tries to play with you and you don't want to play." Allow them to vent about how they feel about this. Acknowledge their feelings. Talk about how much the toddler wants to play along with them, how he's exploring, and learning. Then ask them to brainstorm some possible solutions. Writing them all down gives them importance. Then take the suggestions and either accept them, or point out why a solution is not possible. "I'm sorry but we can't tie your brother to a chair, when you're playing with the floor puzzles. I don't believe this is a kind thing to do, is it?" "But maybe I can offer him a snack in his chair for a while. Will 15 minutes give you enough time to finish your puzzle? Does that seem fair?"

If acceptable solutions aren't forthcoming throw out a couple yourself. "How about when you want to play with Legos or a board game, we clear a place at the dining room table, so he can't reach the pieces." Or, "before you start playing, give your brother some toys to keep him busy for a while, or bring him in to me. But pushing him away or yelling at him is not acceptable." At the meeting's end, the older children will feel more empowered by their role in helping to solve the problem and you may feel you have some new tools to ward off the squabbles.

Patty Jacobs
Alameda, CA, USA

Response

My first son was nearly six when my second son was born. We used to put his big brother's games on a tray that could be lifted instantly out of reach of the little one if necessary. I wore my baby in a sling quite often indoors, which saved some spoiling of games. I think this helped my firstborn to play actively with his younger brother when they did spend time together. They are now both grown up and they each chose the other to be Best Man when they got married!

Jilly Clarke
Rochester, GB

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