You, middle child, you head-butt people because you like it when you are head-butted. You roar at babies because you like being roared at. You push your sister over sometimes because you like being pushed over. You are rough and tumble.
You also listen. “You like being raaaaar’d at, don’t you, Alexander?” I ask. “YEAH!” you say. “I think your sister likes it better when you click your tongue at her like this: Click click click”. And you click click click. She smiles and coos. You smile at both of us. “She falls too fast if you push her back like that. You have to hold her head. See?” and I hold her head and push her over. You watch and you do the same thing, both of you giggling like mad.
It’s hard in the moment sometimes to recognize that the things you do at two and a half are not meant to be scary or hurtful. I can’t see inside your head, and sometimes what an adult sees is that a larger child is being rough with a baby. Sometimes what an adult sees is the need to protect the baby (naturally) and they forget that YOU are still a baby too, and that you need to see, to learn, to understand that there are other ways to do the things that you want to do.
If I yell at you, you will just learn that I yell.
If I punish you, you will just learn to avoid your sister.
If I always keep the two of you apart, you’ll never be close.
So as hard as it can be sometimes, I breathe. I ask myself “what is it that you need to learn right now?” and I show you.. With the understanding that I may need to show you many times before you’ll understand.
Sometimes I have to pick your sister up, or pick you up to keep both of you safe and happy.
Usually, though, you learn so quick and remember so well.
Sometimes I think about that path not taken. I think about how I could simply consider your actions malicious. I could yell. I could be angry. I could point at a corner in anger and isolate you when in your heart you think that you are simply being playful and doing something that you enjoy. I could tell you “NO! Don’t do that!” repeatedly without telling you what you could do instead. I could choose to be angry, ineffective, vindictive, and attribute knowledge and intentions to your actions. I could push you away and feed the jealousy that you sometimes feel, and pigeon-hole you into the negative emotions and behaviors rather than encouraging you to enjoy being positive and loving.
I don’t want to simply stop you from doing certain things. I want to teach you how to do all the things that you need to know how to do in order to be a close and trusted friend to your sister. To teach you how to be as awesome a big brother to her as your big brother is to you.
There are two paths to discipline with toddlers: To discourage, or to teach. I try to choose “teach” wherever I can.