When Both Babies Want the Same Person
A 1-year-old in my daughter's home childcare has become very angry and cranky. She’s biting often, both children and adults. My concern is that my 6-month-old—as a competitor for the provider’s attention—has become part of this child's frustration. While the provider tends to my daughter, this young child pushes her away from my daughter, cries, yells, etc. I even witnessed her grabbing my daughter by the legs and pulling her off the provider's lap. I worry that my daughter will get hurt. Why is this child angry? Is she jealous that she’s no longer the baby in the group? What can I do? What can the provider do? What can the parents of this child do? How can I keep my baby safe?
In a family portrait taken shortly after the birth of our third child, our middle daughter, 18-months-old at the time, sat on my lap with her brow crumpled as our newborn rested in the arms of his grandmother and my husband wrapped his arm around our three-year old. This photo shows that it takes a village to raise young children. My bulky biceps also communicate that I often accommodated three closely spaced siblings by holding them two or three at a time.
Jealousy is not an emotion that a young child has the cognitive capacity to experience but they do express frustration and anger in the first year of life. For babies, skills like waiting, turn-taking, tolerating frustration, and expressing emotions are still emerging. And, because at this age the child you mention may still only have a few words to express her thoughts, physical actions are her primary interaction tool.
Communication is the key.
Talk to your childcare provider. While your job is to protect your baby, her job is to protect, nurture and promote development of both children. Ask her specific questions. Find out how she manages the demands of the older babies and the safety of the little ones. For example, you could ask how she handle’s the older baby’s demands to be held when your baby needs to eat.
Listen for her developmental understanding of the situation. An example of a good response to the older child pulling your baby’s leg could have been “I know you want up too.” Ideally, you will hear her strategies for meeting both children’s needs at the same time without perceiving an overwhelming sense of frustration. What won’t work well is using a punitive or ignoring approach to the older child. Making a baby “cry it out”, wait in another part of the room, or ignoring her only increases a baby’s sense of anxiety and uncertainty.
The older baby’s wants are the same as your baby’s – attention, security, and, engagement. In a few months, you might be the mother with the more demanding baby. You want to have a trusted partner who is providing care for all children with this understanding and developmental perspective.