If possible, give your children the opportunity to develop their social skills by letting them sort things out between themselves. Make a note of problem areas and organise the environment to minimise conflict; for example, have a high shelf for the older child's toys and a lower shelf for the younger child. If some toys are for both siblings, you could have a rule that when someone is using a toy, that toy is not available until it has been returned to the shelf. Use rugs or mats to mark personal play space. Activity on a mat is not to be touched until the user has returned the toy or activity to the shelf.
Provide the language your child needs, such as saying, 'Stop, please. John's playing with that toy now. Wait until he's finished'. Watch what happens and intervene only if behaviour becomes aggressive or physical. Encourage your children to put their feelings into words. Be a mediator, asking, one at a time, 'Is there something you would like to say?' Listen, don't comment. Then turn to the other child and repeat the question. Go back and forth until each has said all they want to. This calming process often produces a solution.
To smack or not?
I've heard that children feel more secure about boundaries when their parents use physical punishment. Is this true?
Anger is usually the trigger when parents resort to physical punishment. If parents took time to calm down, they would probably think up a different method of correcting their child. This method tells your child that hitting people is okay and that it's all right for big people to hit little people. Your child learns that hitting is a way to solve problems. Your child also learns to fear you. Physical punishment can lead to an angry and humiliated child who may either rebel or withdraw. Numerous studies have shown that physical punishment leads to aggression and bullying.
How do I control a toddle who wants to touch everything?
My cruising toddler is into everything and I find myself shouting 'No, no!' and grabbing things from him, which leads to a protest tantrum. Is there another way?
Provide a safe place for your child to play and learn. Try not to say no to everything. Children need to explore to learn. If your child hears 'don't touch' all the time, she may either lose her curiosity or strengthen her determination to touch. But when someone leaves a pen or knife on a low table, she needs to hear 'no' at the same time that you leap to remove the dangerous object from her hand. The word and the emotion behind your 'no' give you the time you need to reach the object before she does. If she is already holding something such as a pair of scissors, let her hold it briefly with your close supervision while you tell her the name of the object. Sometimes just knowing what something is called satisfies a child.