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DrFee, Psychologist
Category: Parenting
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Experience:  I am a Psychologist and Mother of 2.
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My 3 year old daughter is extremely jealous of her 9 month

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My 3 year old daughter is extremely jealous of her 9 month old sister. She snatches things away from her. Hits her when I'm not around, and never lets me cuddle or hold her for a long time. If she watches me hugging the baby, she starts crying and runs outside. How should I handle this?
Hello! Please remember that my responses are informational only, we are not establishing a therapeutic relationship.

You must be having a tough time handling your daughter's emotions and behavior on top of all the normal things you have to do to care for a baby and small child!

I'd like to give you a few ideas.

1. First --keep in mind the best goal is to just channel her behavior appropriately but not try to invalidate her emotions.

This is hard to do, because I'm sure you want her to love and accept her sister. However, if you try to change or deny her emotions while she's still having them, most likely all that will happen is that she represses them but doesn't process them.

So --you want both validate her feelings yet set boundaries around her behavior. If she grabs a toy, very calmly say "give that back to me and sit down." It is essentially a time out, but I would not go with the traditional instruction regarding time outs (too long, child is alone) --rather after 10 seconds I would say, "are you ready to play without grabbing toys?" If she says yes, it's over, if she says no --give her a little longer. I would do this right in the room where you are.

Also you want to validate her many times when she's not grabbing toys. Don't make a big deal out it, just say, "I like the way you are playing with your crayons." Or "You're doing a great job just letting your sister sit in her chair," or whatever.

2. The running outside --I would let her do it (if it's safe --if it isn't safe then you need to re-direct her to another place to go) and let her cry. You can make empathic statements, "It's hard for you to watch Mommy take care of the baby." "It's sad for you to not get all of my attention." Even if she doesn't understand all that you are saying, you are building a good pattern in your relationship with her where you see and hear what her experience is and reflect it back to her.

When I and many of my colleagues see children and teenagers in therapy their number one complaint is "My parents don't listen to me."

While it's really difficult to let a child have their strong emotions, the best thing you can do is let her have them and validate them. Again, this does NOT mean letting her hit, throw things, grab things, or any other inappropriate behavior. Some of those behaviors can be channeled into OK behaviors (you can't scream in my ear but you can go hit your pillow). The empathy will let her know that you understand her feelings and that they are OK to have.


Dr. Fee

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Customer: replied 5 years ago.
Currently I punish her to go to her room and sit there alone. She causes havoc and throws things around and even runs outside. Sometimes I have to close the door. She continues to scream. My husband says I should keep her in until she stops screaming and this continues for hours. How should we punish her? Is our punishment routine appropriate?

I'm going to recommend a book/website for you: it's

The author, Howard Glasser, has a comprehensive approach called "The Nurtured Heart," approach (Transforming the Difficult Child).

Throwing things and running outside (if not safe) should not be tolerated, it sounds like she may need a place to be where there is nothing to throw.

The gist of the punishment should be "your fun stops," when she crosses a boundary. If she's in her room throwing things or running outside, then the "fun" is not necessarily stopping, she may still be pushing your buttons and getting a reaction from you.

Your husband is on the right track with the idea that life does not go on until she stops screaming (if it's disturbing others), but I'd frame it in a different way for yourselves than punishment. The definition of punishment is "applying" something in order to "reduce a behavior." If I speed, the application of a ticket supposedly will reduce my speeding. Notice I said supposedly --it might work for me but not for the guy behind me--maybe he's wealthy, has a fast car and doesn't care much about tickets.

BUT if "life stops," for the guy speeding (i.e. he can't drive again until he's ready to obey the law), he might re-think it. If your daughter is getting something out of causing havoc after she's being "punished," then the punishment will never work. If "life stops," however, there's nothing for her to get out of it (including an angry reaction from you --you need to be emotionless when enforcing a boundary).

I have no problem with the concept of punishment, by the way, but I'm just trying to make the concept of what needs to happen be more clear.

Whatever happens next is based on her choices. "You are welcome to scream all you want, in this room, but you cannot throw anything." (I know you might have to remove all of her stuff in order to accomplish that). "When you are ready to stop, you can come back out and we can play"

Equally important to the question of "how should we punish her," is the question of "how should we respond to her when she's NOT engaging in these behaviors." As parents, most of our energy goes into stopping the undesirable behaviors rather than reinforcing the desirable ones (just the way we seem to be.) Glasser describes parents as the most fascinating toy a child has --the child can behave in certain ways and get all kinds of interesting reactions out of us, including our "punishments."

Glasser also spends a great deal of time helping parents learn how to reinforce the desirable behaviors.

I hope that clarifies it, but if not, please follow up again.