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Q. I have a 2-1/2-year-old son and a 2-month-old daughter. When my son was born, I couldn't afford to stay at home. We're in a better financial position now, so I'm staying at home with both kids. I do feel that I'm doing the right thing for my daughter, since I won't miss out on the things that I missed out on with my son. But I'm wondering if I'm doing the right thing for my son. He has been in home daycare since he was an infant and has always had daily contact with other kids his age. Now that he's "stuck" at home with me, he seems bored, and I feel as if I need to entertain him all day. He also seems confused, not only with having to stay at home with me, but with having the new baby around. How can I manage my son's expectations -- and my own fears about neglecting his needs?
A. In the long run your son will benefit from being at home with you and his sister. He'll have the opportunity to develop relationships with both of you that will serve him his entire life. There are no social or intellectual advantages for toddlers who are in all-day childcare situations. In fact, some toddlers experience stress from the competition for resources (attention and objects) that exists in group care.
That being said, there will be a period of adjustment for your son as he goes from full-time home childcare to being at home with you. This change, coupled with the arrival of an infant sibling, could throw your son into whirlwind of negative behavior that might last for a month or so. You can expect your son to have temper tantrums, to test the established rules, and to try to find ways to make his baby sister disappear.
When he throws a tantrum, sit next to him on the floor until it passes. Don't isolate or punish him for his display of angry emotions. But don't give in to his demands or allow him to hit you or the baby.
When he tests a rule, hold to it. If, for example, he protests climbing into his car seat, get him in anyway. If you've established the rule "food only in the kitchen," don't permit him to wander out of the kitchen holding a banana. If he always takes a nap at childcare at 1:00, keep to that schedule.
When, in an attempt to make the new baby disappear, he tells you, "Take my sister back to the hospital," respond with, "I know you're jealous of the time I spend with your sister. You wish she would go away. However, she's a member of our family now and will always live with us. Sometimes it's fun being a big brother, and sometimes it isn't."
Additionally, locate the book Things to Do with Toddlers and Twos, by Karen Miller (Telshare Publishing). This book offers many homegrown activities appropriate to the curious, energetic toddler. Since children don't need excessive stimulation in order to thrive intellectually, one new activity every three to five days is plenty. Simply provide the activity, then observe and interact with your son as he plays. You may choose to enhance the activity in some way or change it slightly as your son's interest dwindles, and then after a few days come up with another.
Also, consider taking your son to that home childcare two or three mornings a week. That way he'll have the best of both childhood worlds: time with you and his sister, and time at his home-away-from-home childcare. He'll enjoy the benefits of friends, familiarity, and activities different from those you provide, without feeling the stress that full-time childcare can sometimes cause.