We're in an interesting place these days. It can be described as both constructive and destructive.
The little one, Lucas, has discovered a world of limitless mobility. At 13 months he can walk very steadily, has mastered going up the stairs ("climb the beanstalk" has we call it) and can climb onto the sofa and chairs. His pre-walker frustrations are gone and he's turned into a confident, happy toddler.
The world of our 2 1/2 year old (well 2 3/4), Eli, is now being invaded by a curious baby Godzilla. The tracks on the train table are thrown to the ground, the block tower is trampled and the skeleton puzzle, Mr. Bones, is butchered to bits. Nothing seems safe from his creeping fingers and Eli's only defense is to hit, kick, head-butt and push the toddler out of the way. At this point Lucas is pretty easy to topple over and does not react other than to move out of the way, if only momentarily. This development was both shocking and disappointing. I hate to think of either of my boys inflicting pain but I remember that Eli is an impulsive 2 year old and doesn't always have the vocabulary for communicating to me or Lucas that he just wants to be left alone to play.
I've consulted my parenting books of choice for ideas and I have searched high and low for parenting books specifically for parents of closely spaced children as we face challenges different from those of children 3, 4 or 5 years apart. Not harder, not easier... just different. I can't find a SINGLE book for parents of children like my boys who are 20 months apart. Using the positive discipline techniques outlined by Dr. Sears, with some strategies suggested by Dr. T. Berry Brazleton and using some ideas of my own we're attempting to build a happy medium allowing lots of toddler curiosity while giving the bigger boy the time and space he needs to work on his projects.
Here are some of the strategies we are finding have helped limit the amount of hitting and other hurtful touching:
1. It's ok to say no. If Eli is working on a project and Lucas interrupts it's ok to say "No, Lucas" using an appropriate voice. Lucas needs to learn boundaries and Eli needs to see that Lucas does not have free reign of the house. Eli also needs to know that we do respect his need for time and space.
2. If words do not work ask Mommy and Daddy for help.
3. If the toy is in Lucas' hand, it's his turn. When he's finished with the toy (he hands it over or it lands on the floor) Eli can have a turn.
4. Reward and acknowledge positive play... A LOT!
5. Be present. The hitting and pushing is at its max when I step out of the room or I am distracted. By staying present and aware we're able to work through situations as they happen instead of punishing the behavior after the fact.
As a very visual learner myself we worked on two visual reminders for encouraging positive "helping" hands.
We traced Eli's "helping" hands on a piece of paper. We talked about ways we can use our hands to help and make our friends happy. When we "catch" Eli using his helping hands he puts a smiley face sticker on his sign. At the end of the day we make a BIG deal of counting the stickers and talking about the ways he used his helping hands. Each day starts with a new piece of paper.
We made two Eli-sized bracelets using alphabet beads.
I wrote the words "share" and "hug" in large letters on a piece of paper. Eli found the letter beads to spell the words.
We put the beads on an elastic string so he can wear the bracelets like Mama.
This is all an experiment. I will modify as I go along. Do what works, change what doesn't. Updates to follow!