Please help! I need advice on young sibling dynamics, and how to make chores work

Photo: SHUTTERSTOCK
Photo: SHUTTERSTOCK 

Question: I'm looking for a sanity check. My just-turned-3-year-old is having a hard time adjusting to his baby brother (10 months) being mobile and able to steal toys, knock down blocks and otherwise just be in the same room.

He's started a lot of pushing, hair pulling and slamming doors on the baby. He yells "NO" to his brother when the Little Guy so much as looks in his direction and melts into a screaming, whining mess of emotions.

Occasionally, I'll see 3-Year-Old smiling, while watching his baby brother play with toys, until he snaps out of it and realises he's supposed to be yelling and mad. Other than being right there 100 percent of the time to run interference before the pushing, pulling, screaming and finger-slamming starts, is there anything I can do to change this dynamic?

I can't think of any kind of natural consequence discipline for 3-Year-Old that might be effective here. Implementing a timeout policy feels more like a way to punish me, since there's a 0 percent chance 3-Year-Old will ever sit still. Any suggestions?

Answer: Put that baby in a playpen!

You think I am kidding, I am not.

Here's the deal: This is a rough stage. You have two very immature people under your roof. You are doing your best to police them, but when you cannot, you have got to put that baby somewhere that he can be safe from big brother and big brother doesn't feel the need to protect his stuff.

And of course, when you are with them both, you are role-modeling your buns off, showing what sharing and caring sounds and looks like, but otherwise, if you are looking for constant ways to punish the 3-year-old? Oy, your life will be really hard.

The 3-year-old is simply too young to get the concept of sharing with this grabby kid. Period.

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No, you cannot allow him to hurt the baby, but you also cannot allow the baby to Godzilla your son's stuff.

This is also a good time to get some help. Someone, anyone to just sit with them as you get stuff done. They would simply be running interference and giving you a physical and emotional break from this hard work.

Other ideas are putting the 3-year-old in a little program a couple of days a week (so he can fight with kids his own age).

Otherwise: play pen.

Question: I have three kids in the Pre-Kindergarten/Kindergarten age range. This summer I want to introduce formal chores (they do sometimes help me but not on a schedule). My plan is that they can't watch TV until beds are made and toys are straight. I feel like this gives them incentive to do the chores and control over when to do them.

Is this age-appropriate? How should I introduce it? Also, I expect that one will go along easily, one will participate begrudgingly and the third will dramatically fight this injustice. How do I keep the third from mooching off his siblings, since they all play with the same toys and watch the same shows?

Finally, I'm thinking of also introducing a small allowance that they can put toward vacation souvenirs, the ice cream man, etc. Is this a good age for that? Should it be tied to the chores in any way? My instinct says that they're too young to make a connection between Monday's chores and Friday's $2, but I'm curious about your thoughts.

Answer: You are right on track with the ages and the chores.

I want you to scale back your expectations and instead see this as a long journey in training and work.

Let's be joyful, hopeful, flexible and persistent with this . . . flexible being the most important.

1. Google a list of chores for the ages of your children. (A popular list is the age-appropriate Montessori chore chart.)

2. Google "Ideas for getting kids to do chores" and see what speaks to you. Pinterest alone is a sea of charts, ice block sticks, stickers and ideas. Please know that whatever system you use will change hundreds of times. That is a reflection of family and change, not of anything being wrong.

3. Whenever possible, give the kids choice and make the reward immediate. The younger the child, the sooner the reward needs to come, because their brains cannot hold on to intentions and long-term hopes and plans as well as ours can.

4. Treat allowance separately from the chores. I like a piggy bank that is clear and fun, and with which you can easily sort out the spend money from other projects.

Whatever you do, keep it loose and know that some days will better than others. The important part is that you stay the course.

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