Health & Family

Rampaging tot? Drive him to distraction

Q: ‘'My 18-month-old son and 3-year-old daughter generally get along well, but playtime is becoming difficult as my son is becoming more interested in what my daughter is doing. For example, she'll set up an elaborate picnic of play food, only to have him destroy it like Godzilla. Playing board games when he's around is impossible. Until now, I've been telling her to be patient, saying, ‘Babies can't be naughty.' But he's in toddler-hood now. At what age can I start reprimanding him for messing with her things, and how should I do it?” Mother in Raleigh

Think diversion, not punishment. Board games? Impossible – unless the toddler is napping.

Here's one mother's clever solution to a similar problem:

“I, too, had a Godzilla at 18 months and a frustrated 3-year-old,” writes Ashley Slade of Roswell, Ga. “My older daughter would get so angry when her little brother destroyed all of her well-organized games involving small pieces. I tried keeping my son in a (playpen) for certain parts of the day so she could play, but he hated it.”

The mother offered a role reversal, and the daughter played in the playpen.

“She loved it and would sometimes play for almost an hour in there.”

Slade writes. “She didn't like playing alone in her room at that young age, so this was the perfect solution. My son could roam freely and my daughter could have her protected space, and we could all be in the same room. At the time, I felt like the world's most brilliant mother.”

As you figure out how to adjust with two little people – not just one – keep in mind: Sister's shrieks and mom's anger are sure to make the little boy all the wilder. What fun to have such power!

In the book “Positive Discipline: The First Three Years” (Three Rivers Press, 2007, $16.95), co-authors Jane Nelsen, Cheryl Erwin and Roslyn Ann Duffy emphasize the importance of parents knowing what is developmentally appropriate – the difference between intentional misbehavior and a child's natural need to explore.

Distraction and redirection are among the most useful parenting tools for living with toddlers.

“If you have a child who is doing something you don't like, get real upset about it on a regular basis, and sure enough she will repeat it for you,” according to Thomas Phelan, Ph.D., author of “1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12” (ParentMagic Inc., 2003, $14.95).

To straighten out behavior problems, be consistent and calm, without getting emotional, Phelan advises.

Some ideas:

Get tiny shovels and plastic buckets to use to help you garden.

Set your children up with play dough on plastic place mats at the kitchen table.

As mom or dad prepares dinner, provide plastic kitchen tools that both children will enjoy using.