I have been noticing that my 4 year old daughter gets jealous whenever I spend time alone with my 2 year old toddler. For example, at bedtime, I try to put my toddler to sleep before my 4 year old, so I take him upstairs with the intention of reading him a book, singing him a song, and putting him to bed first. This routine is always interrupted by my daughter who comes running up the stairs, a little bit nervous and anxious, and sitting herself on my lap (oftentimes pushing away my son or plopping down right on top of him). I want to be able to put him to bed early and spend a few quiet moments just with him but there just seems to be no way without upsetting my daughter too. What can I do?
Dr. Donna's Answer:
One of the things that is important when you have 2 siblings and both of them or in this case one of them does not want you to spend time alone with the other is that they each need to have their quality alone time with you. This has to be set up front and center.
It’s helpful for your 4 year old to know that her special time with you will be after your time alone with the younger sibling so that she is assured that she will get her time with you too! You can even explain it with a positive yet accurate twist: because she is older she gets to stay up longer and do so much more than her younger sibling. This also can help your older child in other situations where you have to give attention to your toddler by letting your older child know that you are spending a little bit more time with the younger child because they can’t do as many things on their own as she can do like getting dressed, riding a tricycle, and need your help.
At times you may even want to invite the older child to be mommy’s helper. This encourages them to learn to engage and interact with the younger child in a helpful way, which assists in developing important life skills like collaboration, cooperation, and empathy. Just remember that you don’t want to put the older child in a parental role: there is a difference between having skills they can teach their younger sibling versus taking over the role of the parent.
It’s critical to communicate to your children that “You are both my children but you don’t do things the same way because one is younger and one is older and you both need different things, but I still love you each very very much, I love you googolplex* .” In terms of sibling rivalry, children will fight no matter what, but at least if you are able to take away the element of fighting over who is getting more of your attention, well, that’s one less thing to fight about!
*More than anything in the entire universe