After bringing Butter Cheeks home, it became pretty clear that Flash couldn’t wait for us to send the new arrival back to the hospital. Flash was only 15 months old at the time, and looking back on it, he seemed so big to me! I laugh at that now. I anticipated some jealousy from Flash, but not to such a degree. My little angel who was so gentle and sweet for 15 months quickly turned into Mike Tyson. Hitting, pushing, yelling and doing everything else in his power to maintain our attention. There were so many days I felt completely out of control of my child because his jealousy was so hard to manage. So for advice on how to handle his behavior, I turned to friends, books, and workshops.
One book that helped me reframe things was Parenting Without Power Struggles: Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Cool, Calm, and Connected by Susan Stiffelman, MFT. The subject matter seems to focus on older (maybe teenage) kids, but much of the content is still very applicable to young children. Stiffelman emphasizes the importance of remaining calm and speaking with authority – even when dealing with the most difficult behavior – to minimize power struggles. For example, if your child is being aggressive or argumentative, instead of yelling or asking, “Can you do…”, she recommends calmly saying, “I need you to…” I found this tactic particularly helpful.
A common thread between Stiffelman’s book and a Positive Discipline workshop (withDr. Rene Hackney) I attended, was the importance of empathy. Prior to having children, I was a mental health counselor; and I can’t agree with the need for empathy more! And let me tell you, as counterintuitive as this may sound, hugging Flash while he’s having a meltdown significantly cuts down its duration. So I try and remember that it’s not like he could sit me down and say, “Mommy, we need to talk. I’m jealous, and I would appreciate you take this competitor back to the hospital so I can continue to have your 100% attention. Got it? Thanks.“ Of course a 15 month old is going to act out with jealousy and aggression… because it’s the only way he knows how to communicate.
I learned from Stifflelman’s book and Hackney’s workshop that by remaining calm during challenging times helped lessen the intensity of the undesired behaviors. I noticed that with time (and giving Flash 10-20 minutes of undivided playdates a day) there has been a change for the better. Things got easier, and they continue on that path. So now, mixed in with the anger and jealousy, I hear laughter, giggles, and “(Butter Cheeks)! Play with me?!” Big sigh of relief.