Category Archives: Siblings

Q&A: tandem nursing blues

Lisa writes:

"I need some help to wade through a bucketload of postpartum tandemnursing emotions, and maybe some reader experiences and data points.
Help please!

My son is almost 2 1/2 and nursed throughout my
pregnancy, but at the very end would only latch for a few seconds at a
time, once or twice a day. Well, now that my daughter has arrived (2
weeks ago) and the milk is a-flowin, he's on me all.the.time.  I had
always thought I'd let him self wean (and even naively thought that
maybe it would be soon), and was game for tandem nursing, but now I'm
feeling really conflicted.

Some of it is just the sheer logistics of nursing two, especially
when he's so adamant and persistent and acrobatic.  He of course always
wants to nurse when his sister does, and trying to keep her latched in
the midst of his acrobatics is no small feat.  But a deeper part comes
from an emotion I feel really guilty about – he just seems so BIG now
compared to his baby sister and I feel resentful when he's groping at
me.  I love my son with every fiber of my being and I don't like
feeling resentful and annoyed about a nursing relationship that has
been so great for over 2 years. I've been trying to keep my cool but I
worry that I'm not going to be able to keep it up for long.

Not surprisingly, those around me think the obvious solution is
weaning him. But I think that pushing him to wean now is probably the
worst possible timing ever, with all the upheaval in his life.  But I'm
struggling to think clearly about how to change the behavior so that he
nurses a little less often, or a little less vigorously, or something.
Maybe it's the cluster of postpartum emotions + the figuring out of how
to be mom to two + oh did I mention his nanny had to leave us a few
weeks ago so I have no child care and am looking for a new babysitter
for him?  But I feel stuck.  Any insight?"

Then she wrote an update:

"The update is that I've started weaning my toddler by cutting out the
demand nursings; now we just nurse upon awakening, at naptime, and at
bedtime. Still too many for me but at least I can tell him "we only
nurse at bedtime" etc when he tries to attach himself mid day.

But I still feel the visceral resentment, and de-latching/detaching
him at the end of those 3 nursing times is getting increasingly
difficult. It's like he knows there are limits now so stretches each
time to the maximum possible. I'm going to keep on keeping on and
figure that my return to work at the end of maternity leave will be a
natural dropping of the naptime session and sometimes the morning
session too.

The piggyback question that this raises for me is re: the advice
everyone seems to give about making changes when siblings arrive.
"Don't move to a big kid bed/potty train/take away pacifiers when the
baby comes or the older child will associate the change with the baby
and this will fuel sibling rivalry." How true is this really? How long
is it true for? Keeping in mind that my son is exactly 2 1/2 so gearing
up in a big way for that half year disequilibrium.  We need to change
bedtime but I can't wait until he's three!!"

The first thing I want to say is that I never tandem nursed, but I have felt the feeling of wanting to jump out of my skin while a child nursed, and it's horrible. It makes you want to run away, and makes you feel guilty about wanting to run away. It makes you feel like a bad mother and bad person, because your child wants something and you resent giving it. It's a tough place to be.

But it's also natural. I'm not sure there are any women who've tandem nursed who haven't felt at least some of that feeling. I'm betting it also varies by the ages of the kids, and by how much the older one nurses and how often, etc.

Parenting is always about boundaries. And you can only prioritize your kids so much before it becomes unhealthy for you. One of the hidden gifts of nursing (that I never really figured out until I had an older child) is that you're forced to navigate the changing border of your needs vs. your kids' needs all the time, so that by the time things get really high-stakes you're already used to it.

FWIW, I never thought the reason not to change things when a new baby came was to prevent sibling rivalry. I thought it was because too many changes would overload your child and would make the changes less likely to succeed. So this is another case of a solution is only a solution if it's not worse than the problem–if weaning makes things better for you, and gives you more resources to parent both your kids, then that's the solution. If weaning causes you more stress (as it does for some people), then it's not a solution. Only you know which is the case for you and your family.

Plenty of 2 1/2-year-olds have been weaned when a younger sibling was born. Plenty of them have continued to nurse. Even more of them weren't nursing by that point at all. It's my strong suspicion that we wouldn't be able to tell the difference among them, and that their relationships with their siblings weren't affected by that at all. (If anyone's got any research confirming or negating that, please let us know.)

Your son is important, and your baby is important, but you are important, too. Raising good people is partly about teaching them how to respect other people's boundaries. If you can come up with a solution that makes all of you feel good, that would be a parenting utopia. But while you're figuring out who to prioritize here, remember that there's no wrong or right answer, and you and your son are going to get something valuable out of whatever decision you make.

Can anyone comment on tandem nursing? Suggestions or empathy? Virtual chocolate?

Q&A: hitting

Shannon writes:

"I have a 22 month old son (Henry) and a 7 week old son (Myles). Henryis a sweet, loving boy who loves to cuddle and hug. He has such a huge
heart, but he also hits constantly. It started about 8 months ago, and
he was hitting me and his Daddy, it has slowly progressed to him
hitting everyone. Sometimes its when he doesn't get his way, other
times (mostly with other children) just when he feels like it. He is
excited all day to see his cousin, and then when we get together, he
just walks around beating on her, and then watching her cry. Sometimes
he's hitting me over and over again when he is mad, and I feel like he
can't even control it. When Myles was born, Henry seemed to adjust
wonderfully. Lots of kisses and he always wants to hug his little
brother. But he can be so aggressive and I really have to watch that he
doesn't smother Myles, but as soon as I restrict him in any way, he
immediately starts hitting Myles. Or sometimes he'll just scratch his
face for no reason.
I feel completely lost. I don't know what to do anymore. I feel like I
have tried everything. Stern talking to, time outs, time ins, yelling.
Unfortunately, I have also been aggressive back with him, out of pure
frustration. I am brought to tears almost daily, because he has made
Myles bleed or tormented another child. Sometimes I loose sight of the
fact that he is my baby, that I gave birth to him and he is an innocent
child. I just get so upset and protective of his younger brother.
I feel like speaking with him gently and explaining that he loves Myles
and that he doesn't want to hurt him works to a certain extent. It
prevents further hitting for the time being, but it hasn't been a cure
all, and to be honest, it is so hard to be patient and soft after this

What do I do? Where do I go from here? Nothing has worked, and
everyones advice that he'll grow out of it seems to be totally
inaccurate since we are coming up to almost a year of it. Any advice
would be greatly appreciated."

Henry sounds a lot like my second son. He has extremely intense emotions, and is the most loving child I've ever met. But his emotions are so intense that he has a truly hard time dealing with them, and that results in a lot of hitting (and sometimes biting) and now threatening with words. It's been going on since he was a toddler, and it seems to me as if his aggression just flares up when he feels misunderstood or thwarted and he doesn't know how to make himself feel better about a situation.

The only thing that seems to help is to talk out his feelings with him, to allow him to be angry but to express it verbally instead of physically. When he was littler and not verbal what helped was saying what I guessed he was feeling, about being angry or frustrated. He could nod his head when I hit the right emotions. Now I can say, "How does that make you feel?"

I've also started noticing that when I do a more general debriefing of the day at night and in the morning of what happened that day or the day before and how he felt about it, he seems to do less aggressive acting out. It's almost as if he knows he's being understood and will have his chance to state his emotional case, so he can control the lashing out a little more.

Have you ever felt like the world was on your last nerve? That must be what it's like to be a really intensely emotional child. Anything is going to set you off, and you won't have the emotional space to pull back. So I think trying to make your child feel understood, and taking the focus off the kids he hits and more onto his own emotions just might help. But it seems like a more constant process (of daily check-ins) than just stopping it at the time.

I'm going to try it out even more over the next few weeks, and if any of you with intense kids who are physically acting out would volunteer to try it out, too, we could see if it's a plan that helps. Because that feeling of not knowing how to stop your child (who you KNOW is loving) from hurting other kids is horrible.

Any comments?

Q& no A: One child has to go to the bathroom and the other doesn’t

A situation that confounded me for a certain period of time, and is now plaguing an anonymous reader. I'll paraphrase (because the letter was very detailed):

"What do you do when you're out and your older child has to go to the bathroom but you're with a younger child, too?

I pack up the younger child with all his stuff and haul him along with us to the bathroom (and sometimes I can't even fit the stroller in the bathroom, depending on where we are). That's the best-case scenario. The other scenario is that the bathroom need comes on us so suddenly that I have no time to give a warning so the younger child freaks out and starts screaming and flailing not to stop playing and won't calm down when I say we're coming right back, so I can barely haul a kicking child with all of our crap to the bathroom and help my older one go."

I remember this, and it was my nightmare every single time it happened. My only real help is that eventually the younger one may be able to be convinced that when the older one goes, he should try to go, too. (One of my guiding principles of life is that when given the chance to use the toilet, one should. I'm passing that along to my kids, so they remind each other of it, and if one needs to go, the other one will try, too.)

What do/did you guys do? Is there some magic trick I completely missed? It's all the factors combined–the suddenness of the need in the older one, the resistance to change in the younger one, plus all the crap you have to haul around with two kids–that makes it so difficult.

Or do we all just grin and bear it until the kids are older?

Q&A: Imagine no possessions…

Continuing with the sibling theme, Jen writes:

"Our daughter Natalie will be almost 2 1/2when our second child is born this fall, and I'm getting pretty worried
about dealing with jealousy.  I'm specifically concerned about
possessiveness related to THINGS – mostly baby gear, maybe clothes
& diapers – because we plan to hand down everything we can, given
our limited budget.  In the past few months, when friends have come to
visit and their children have used some of her outgrown gear (booster
seat, Moses basket, blankets) she's been INSANELY possessive.  She is
in a big disequilibrium phase right now, and has been for about 4
months, so she should be better when the baby is born… but heading
downhill again when the baby is about 3 months – prime time to be
starting to play with toys, and moving into "her" stroller, Ergo, etc.,

Natalie is very sweet with the children, bringing them small toys
and playing with them, but she goes ballistic when they use her stuff. 
We had dinner with friends last weekend, and she would not calm down
about the baby using her booster high chair – demanding it was her
turn, that we take the baby out, warning the baby she had "one minute"
left, etc.  We told her she could sit in it when the baby was done, but
she kept talking and talking about it the whole time.  It did not make
for an enjoyable dinner.  She doesn't show her frustration physically,
at least with small babies, but did bite her babysitting buddy (spends
at least 2 days a week with him; he's 4 months younger) once when he
crawled into the Moses basket that she was playing with (which had been
left out from a baby visiting the night before).  I think in a weird
way the digital age is compounding the issue – she
has seen many pictures of herself as an infant using all of these
things and so still feels a strong connection to them even though she's
long since outgrown them.

We're not having her give up her
crib – the baby will sleep in our room for the foreseeable future – and
there are a few other things she won't have to share, but most baby
things will naturally be reused.  I do also hope to/plan to tandem
nurse, so she won't have to yield the boobs entirely to her sibling.

We're reading a lot to Natalie about babies, and she is very
excited about the baby.  She tries to share some things with the baby
even now – she will wear a sticker for a few minutes and then put it on
my stomach "for the baby".  She likes to sing and talk to the baby.  I
think she will be fine overall in the end.  My partner has read Siblings without Rivalry,
and it's in my (gargantuan) stack of things to read.  My partner says
it's mostly focused on older kids, anyway.  But I envision the scenes
when the baby is really here, and taking up some of our time as well as
HER things… and I get pretty worried.

Is this one of those grit our teeth and get through it things, or is there something we can do about it?"

Is there any way you can do a hard sell to convince her she's a Big Girl who does Big Girl Things and has Big Girl Toys and Possessions and get her to buy it so thoroughly that she doesn't even care about that Baby Stuff anymore? That's pretty much all I've got. I have no idea how to mediate between a toddler and a baby (and seem to be failing Mediation for Mothers 202: Preschooler to Elementary Schooler for the last week or two, too).

Somebody help, because all I've got in my bag of tricks is manipulation marketing.

For those of you who have or are having or considering second children

So a few more questions came in over the last week or so about second children. A couple of them from people who were either newly pregnant with the second or about to give birth, and were wondering if they were setting themselves up for disaster. The real concern for both those writers seemed to be the overwhelming sense of guilt at breaking up the little party the first child had, combined with the worry that they'd never be able to love the second child the way they loved the first.

I don't know that I have so much to offer here. I definitely felt both those feelings when I was having my second son. And I think it's a mistake to resort to the old "a sibling is the best gift you can give" line to comfort yourself, even if you do believe it. (I do for myself, because my relationship with my brother is the most important relationship I've had, aside from the one with my children.) Because even as wonderful as it is to have a sibling, there is loss for the older child. If nothing else, there's loss of having all the focus (which, again, could also be a good thing), but there's loss of the immediacy and the cocoon.

Does the good outweigh the bad? For my kids, yes. But it's important to acknowledge for yourself that it's not all happiness all the time. Allow yourself to feel a little sad about it, even as you look forward to the baby.

Can I ask a favor? If there's anyone who truly doesn't love their second (or later) child as much as the first, could you comment on it anonymously? I've never heard of it happening, but of course it's something you could never say in public. So if there is someone, please put it here anonymously, and we'll see if it's a realistic fear, or if loving the second one as much as the first is just something you can't imagine until you're there.

The other questions I got were from a very new mom-of-two and one about to pop any second now, who were really terrified of what was going to happen when their help (spouses and family) were gone and they had to be alone with the two kids. The spacing was right around 2 years for both of these moms, and the primary concern was how to keep the older one calm and happy while they got the baby to sleep. And yeah, that's a concern, because a 2-year-old's needs are very immediate, as are an infant's, so it could turn into a donnybrook easily.

Mine were 3 years apart, so my older one watched a lot of Bob the Builder DVDs while I was getting the little one down to sleep in those early days. For those of you with kids spaced closer than 2 1/2 years apart, how did you keep the older one chill while you were getting the little one to sleep? Any and all suggestions welcome.

Q&A: 20-month-old afraid of an 8-month-old?

Shelley writes:

"I have a 20 month old son and an 8 month old daughter.
My son runs and hides behind me and screams frantically whenever my daughter
crawls towards him.  What’s up with this?"

Heh. I’m imagining your daughter as a pint-sized Godzilla, storming through Tokyo as your son cowers behind Century Tower.

I think he’s probably scared because she’s crawling, and that just freaks him out. It’s the same reason some adults freak out when we see a mouse running across the floor or a large spider crawling on the wall. Even though we’re way bigger than the mouse or the spider, it’s the crawling aspect and the "otherness" that scares us.

I have no idea what to do about it, really until she starts to walk, at which point I’m pretty sure he’ll stop being afraid of her. Maybe some of the readers have a suggestion about what to do to stop the screaming and cowering? I’ll just tell you to make sure you videotape his reaction at least once, because it’ll be priceless when they’re older.

Q&A: only children

Too many irons in the fire! Sorry about the skipped day.

To the Jill who had the friend who would talk to K, could you email me at with your contact info so I can put you in touch? Thanks.

I’ve discovered several things in the past few days:

1. In order to use the auto-post feature of Typepad effectively, you have to know what day it is.

2. Green smoothies are excellent, but raw arugula does not taste good in them. (Current green smoothie recipe: raw spinach, mung bean sprouts, greens powder, kefir, raw almonds, a packet of Emergen-C for the winter season, frozen mango, frozen acai or blueberries.)

3. What was I thinking with all the skirts for work? I’m a skirt-wearer by nature, but between dropping my older one at school, walking to the subway, and walking from the subway to my office I walk 1.2 miles every morning. In the freezing winds of NYC. And I work in an office with only men, and my only contact with clients is by phone, so who even cares what I wear? I need more pants.

4. Have you ever been post-shower naked brushing your teeth in the morning, when suddenly both kids and one of the cats bursts in because the older child has decided to be Batman, "but not the real Batman, Mom! I’m a guy with two bats who attacks his brother–Batman! But they’re just pretend bats!" and the little one is squealing and laughing and trying to hide behind your legs, and the cat just wants to be part of the action? And then when everyone’s finally stuffed into clothes and ready to go, the little one poops? And people wonder why I leave the house with my hair wet.

Now on to today’s topic. After that post a few months ago on spacing kids, I got a couple of responses from people about only children.

Lysa writes:

"My husband and I are in our mid-thirties.  We have a 15-month-old son.  We are university professors so money will never be aplenty (but time, at times, will).  We’re really on the fence about having another child, for several reasons: resources (we want to give our child/ren everything we can and with two, as crass as it sounds, there’d be less to "go around"); timing and age (again: we’re in our mid-thirties and *very* tired); selfishness (as much as we adore and utterly cherish our son, we secretly can’t wait to get even a remote semblance of our old life back — i.e. Preschool era approaching).  And yet, we feel strongly that siblings are somehow essential to well-being and adjustment (I hate that word).  I’m very close with my brother.  An only child himself, my husband feels indifferent: having never had a sibling he doesn’t really know what he’s "missed," but he also recalls wanting a larger family growing up (never had a dad).

Question: are there significant (i.e. Scientifically proven or obvious) disadvantages to being an only child?  What do people with only children notice?  Any major observations/experiences worth taking into account as we struggle through this indecision?"

Then Lisa wrote:

"Here’s my context.  I’m a young, spry 30 year
old Canadian that had a very normal childhood.  I have one sibling, 3y9m
younger than me.  We fought a lot when we were young and once I hit high
school, had very little to do with each other (mainly because of the age
difference, dating, etc).  We are much, much closer now and have been since
I left home 8 years ago.

My daughter is 17 months old.  Gentle, loving,
sweet, beautiful.  Pregnancy was fine, delivery longish, but fine. 
Normal breastfeeding challenges in the beginning and we’re still going
strong.  Sleep is a huge challenge, but we’re coping through

The reason for this preamble: I can see no glaring
reason for my unending feelings of NOT WANTING ANY MORE CHILDREN!!!  Not
just that I’m not ready for another, but I really don’t want to do it all

I feel like a freak because of it.  For now, I
can just tell family/friends/strangers that I’m just not ready as N is only 17
months, but that will change.

Is being/having an only child really that
bad?  Am I a bad parent for only having one?"

You know, I don’t follow a lot of the research on the optimum number of siblings to have, or how far apart they should be spaced. But I’m suspicious of a lot of that research anyway, because I think so much of how you relate to any siblings or to being an only, and how you feel about it is a heady mix of 1) how your parents dealt with the situation, and b) luck. And how do you control for that in research studies?

You know, there are people who love being onlies, and are very motivated and feel like they’re lucky not to have had siblings. And people who feel desperately lonely being an only. People with one sibling who wished there were more (like me), and people who think one was enough.

One thing I’m pretty sure of, though, is that if parents don’t have the emotional resources to deal with more than one kid, they shouldn’t set out to have more.

[Before I go on with that, let’s point out that you can’t always control it. Some people struggle for years to have one, and don’t have the luxury of considering having more than one. Some people have one and then can’t have another. Some people only want one and then have a surprise baby. So, to a certain degree, this is all hypothetical anyway.]

But back to resources. If you don’t feel like you can handle another baby emotionally or in terms of energy or time, you’re going to put yourself in a really bad situation by having another one. You’ll be stretched too thin to parent as well as you’d like to, and you just won’t feel good about your life or yourself. I don’t think the same argument can be made as strongly about financial resources, since having two kids isn’t two times as expensive as having one. And your financial situation will, presumably, improve over time. You do have to consider how having less money will affect your parenting, in the sense of childcare, working hours, choice about where to live. Giving your kids "the best of everything" doesn’t resonate with me personally, because I’d trade anything, including my college education, to have my brother. But there’s a big difference between not being able to afford the very best thing because you have to buy two, and being stretched too thin with daycare or having no options for schooling.

So, yeah. You’re not horrible for only wanting one. Or for wanting two. Or three, or four, or however many. If you feel that having a sibling is important, then have one. If you don’t, you will have to do extra work to set up playdates and activities for your child. But if you do, you’ll have the extra work of two kids, so it probably comes out even in the wash.

One thing I would like to say is that when my older one was in that 15-20-month age range, I couldn’t even imagine having another child. That period was so lousy for me with the emotional stage of early toddlerhood that the thought of having another child in the mix was enough to drive me over the edge. So my advice for people wondering about this when their child is 15 months or 17 months is that if you think intellectually that you want to have another child, but emotionally don’t want to, just make the decision to table it and revisit it in 6 months to a year. Once you’re in a new stage, and your child is more verbal, it will probably become more clear to you whether you really want only one, or would like (and could deal with) another one.

Thoughts from the readers? If you got to decide about siblings, how did you decide? Did your decision change at all over time? If you didn’t get to decide, how did you reconcile yourself? Regrets? Things you’re happy about? Post anonymously if what you say could hurt your child’s feelings someday.

Reader call: Is there a best time to have a second child?

We’ve kind of talked about this previously, but not with as many commenters. I’m hoping everyone will just jump in with their own data points of experience.

Susan writes:

"Talking with my mama friends, one thinks that maybe she is
pregnant again (accidentally) and she would feel badly for her 18 month
old if she was pregnant because he is still so little and she’d planned
to wait until he was school-aged so that both kids could have her focus
when they were very young.

Personally, I think it would be better for myself, my husband and
our 18 month old boy to wait until he is around 3 before adding another
because of our quality of life and having the older child mature enough
to understand his new sibling and be helpful etc, and away at at least
half-days somewhere.

I’m just wondering if there have been any studies done on if there
is a ‘best time’ for a child to gain a baby sibling and for a family’s
quality of life, and if the readers want to weigh in and we can do our
own study.

Maybe there’s no magic time to introduce Child #2, but if there is, it sure would be interesting to hear about!"

The premise is that you actually get to choose the spacing of your kids, which we all know isn’t applicable to many of us. But, assuming that you could choose, what does your experience tell you are the pros and cons of different ages?

Personally, I think any age separation could be perfect or bad, depending on how many resources you have (of all types) when the kids are little, how you treat them, and what your priorities are. Everyone knows kids X years apart who are best friends, and kids X years apart who hate each other. Parents who loved the kids at a certain spacing and others who wish their kids weren’t spaced at that distance.

So when we’re offering our experience, let’s talk about what our priorities were for the sibling relationship, whether we think the spacing achieved those goals, and what could have been different.

I’ll start. My boys are 3 years and 2 months apart. For me it was important that my older one have his full "turn" to be The Baby, and he was definitely a big boy by the time the second one came. But I also wanted them to be close enough to play together, and to have some time home together before the older one had to be in school all day. Those things my priorities for the sibling relationship, and I think that spacing achieved those two goals.

My older one went to preschool a few days a week when the little one was 4 months old. It was good, in that he had that fun activity and it gave me alone time with the baby. But the logistical challenge of getting to and from school and trying to deal with the baby’s nap at the same time made it kind of nasty some days.

My parenting goal continues to be encouraging them to be kind to each other and to work out problems between the two of them. I want them to be able to negotiate with each other and give each other the benefit of the doubt. I am not sure it that would have been as easy if they had been closer together. I suspect that if they’d been spaced more closely (under 2 years) I might not have had the emotional resources to be able to help them navigate their relationship. But who knows? It might have come together even faster than it did.

OK, everyone. Jump in. What were your priorities for the sibling relationship, and do you think your spacing achieved those? Let’s pretend for a minute that the world is fair and everyone can space their kids and afford to have as many as they want.

Q&A: mediating between a 3-year-old and a 6-month-old

Kristen writes:

"I am having a
sibling problem. I have read your posts on the topic, read Siblings Without
and Between Parent and Child and still can’t seem to find a solutions.

I have 2 daughters, 3 yo and 6 months. The 3
year old has some jealously especially when I have to nurse the baby and
lie down with her to get her to sleep. It is a tantrum every time the baby needs
a nap no matter what measures I take to avoid it. It usually ends with her lying
in the hall outside my room crying that she doesn’t want to be left
alone. Eventually she will go into her room to play. No go nursing the baby
to sleep in a communal room, she’s too distracted.

The other problem is that the 3 year old likes to
wrestle with the baby. She thinks it is hugs and kisses but it’s really pulling
and grabbing. The 6 month old is really active, crawling and pulling to standing
but not exactly steady on her feet, I don’t feel that pulling and grabbing
(sometimes picking her up) is a safe interaction. Right now I have to
separate her from the baby and repeat that this is not a safe way to play, I
usually get an "ok, ok, alright’ and then she is back at it, until eventually
she is in her room and we are all crying.

I am at my wits end trying to deal with these
issues. (It would really help if I could get a good night’s sleep, but that’s a
whole other battle) I do my best to give my oldest some special time when the
baby is asleep. I am so mixed up and hugely afraid that I am causing problems
instead of solving them."

This evening I’m going to put up a weekend review of the classic book Your Three-Year-Old: Friend or Enemy by Ames and Ilg. I think if Kristen gets a chance to read this book she’ll see that this sounds like a 3-year-old problem, and not a sibling problem necessarily.

The dirty little secret that most parents of kids 3 years apart (like, oh, say, me) won’t tell you is that 3-year-olds can be amazing little creatures, but at a certain point they become cranky little jerks. And it’s kind of a crapshoot where in the cycle you’ll end up when you have your baby. So you could have a newborn and a sweet loving 3-year-old angel, but then later a 6-month-old and a 3 1/2-year-old cranky jerk. Or you could have a newborn and a cranky jerk, and then 6 months later a 6-month-old and an angel.

In other words, this isn’t your fault. And there’s not really much you can do to make the older one suddenly become loving and not jealous. Because she is jealous, and that’s appropriate, if not particularly adaptive. But she’s also just at a tough age.

I can tell you what I did, with some success. No guarantees that my ideas will work, so I’m hoping we’ll get great comments with other ideas.

For the nursing down for naps problem, use the TV. We had a Bob the Builder DVD that my older son was only allowed to watch while I was nursing the younger one down for naps. Because it was limited to that time, he’d get really excited to see it, so he actually started looking for ward to my leaving the room to get the other one to sleep so he could watch that DVD. Bonus: I never had to see the first part of the DVD because I was in the other room nursing. So if your child loves some video you can’t stand, this could be the nursing-your-sister-to-sleep video (hello, Wiggles).

For the too-rough play, all I could do was just try to be on top of it as much as I could. It was excruciating to have to be there all the time (and I got nothing done), but there were a few months when that was all that worked. There were brief periods in which I could give the older one a job and he’d do it or help me do it, and that would distract him, but for the most part it was just constant vigilance.

From having read Siblings Without Rivalry I knew not to set up any situations in which I was getting angry or telling him he was bad for interacting with his brother (even when that interaction was covertly malicious). So I’d just praise him for the good interactions, and then kind of play dumb about the intent behind the bad ones and try to distract him the way you would a young toddler.

It sucked, but it got us through those evil months.

I’ll have my review of the book up for this weekend, and it’s a book I highly recommend. Three years is both the best of times and the worst of times, and the Ames and Ilg book really lays it all out and lets you know that you’re not crazy for thinking your child is both Jekyll and Hyde, and it’s also not anything you did to make them that way. So I think reading that book will help you get a little breathing room emotionally.

Can anyone else offer practical suggestions for dealing with the immediate problems?

Q&A: four-year-old twins waking in the middle of the night

Cathy writes:

"we have 4yr old twin girls (they sleep in the same room)
within the past couple months one of them wakes up between 1:30am – 4:30 am
just to "play" with her toys
she throws a temper tantrum every time we tell her to go back to sleep
because it’s not time to wake up yet
we have even told her that it’s time to wake up when the sun comes up
but that doesn’t work
we’re all tired and frustrated…HELP!!!"

Just awful. I don’t have twins, but I have two kids who share a bedroom, and it just makes you want to yank your brain out through your ear when one of them wakes the other one up, especially on purpose.

I don’t know if there’s any way to stop your daughter (I read the question as it being one of the girls waking up consistently, not the two of them taking turns waking) from waking up, and am guessing that it’s a phase she’s going through. My suspicion is that if you stopped caring about it she’d get bored and go back to sleep, and after a few nights of this would stop waking up.

So that means the question is how you can stop her from waking her sister. If you could stop her from waking her sister, then it really wouldn’t matter if she woke up to play with her toys, because the other three of your could stay asleep. (And if the other three of you stayed asleep she might give up and go to sleep herself from boredom.)

I think there has to be another room involved in this somehow. Either you could separate them for sleep, or make the waking sister go into another room silently to play with the toys. I wouldn’t want to have to deal with switching the beds and sleep, so I’d choose to make a rule about going into another room to play. But that’s obviously me, and you might want to go the other way. I think if you did make her go into another room (assuming you feel it’s safe to do this–my older son could have been trusted not to get into any trouble in the middle of the night, but not all kids could be, and I predict his brother won’t be at that age) you’d find her asleep on the floor in the morning.

If this is making your stomach turn because you just can’t see separating them or letting her be alone in a room awake in the middle of the night, we’re going to have to go back to the drawing board. As you all have figured out, I tend to look for the thing that seems the most direct, but there are often tricks that I’m just not seeing. So does anyone have any suggestions for Cathy? And if you can come up with a way to get a four-year-old to obey we’ll all send you chocolate and beer.