Home About Dr Gayle Counseling Services Speaking Services Online Seminars Articles Press Room Books Contact

Ask Dr. Gayle

My Toddler is Jealous of the Child I Baby-sit

QUESTION: I have a two-year-old son and I baby-sit for a two-year-old girl. They fight constantly. My son is bigger than the little girl and he is usually starts the fight. I've been trying to use time-outs, but it isn't working very well. What can I do?

ANSWER: It appears that your two-year-old son is feeling jealous of your attention to the little girl you are baby-sitting. He does not yet seem ready to share your attention. At least not with another two-year-old!

Consider whether the amount of time that you baby-sit can be reduced, or whether it would be better to baby-sit a child a bit older. It is possible that he will feel less competitive with an older child he can learn from, such as a three-year-old. He could still be your baby and the child you baby-sit would be a bit less needy than a two-year-old.Hopefully an interest in one another, instead of competition, could develop.

Two years of age is one of the potentially most difficult and trying periods of early childhood development. Frustration levels are often high for both parent and child. Your toddler's conflicting needs for independence and dependence may mean that he will challenge the rules, and you will find that limit setting is a repetitive process. And you are dealing with not one, but two, toddlers going through this phase of development simultaneously. Perhaps if you were not the mother of one of them, it would be doable! For your child, his relationship to you can be expressed in somewhat territorial terms at this age, making your dual relationship of work and parenting particularly difficult.

Keep in mind that a child's attention span at this age is often very short, creating added demands for entertainment. The constant fighting could also be a sign that you need to provide greater positive stimulation for these two. If you do decide to continue to make it work, try setting up more structured situations which involve active participation, such as hand painting projects, trips to the zoo and cooking activities for lunch. Also, be sure you are spending quality time with your son outside of your "work hours."

If you are already doing these things, then you will have to consider whether this particular situation is a good match for your son's development. After all, he is your child, and you do not want to make him feel that he does not come first. The little girl you are baby-sitting also deserves the best care, and a less agitated atmosphere may be in her best interest.


Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

Return to Dr. Gayle Peterson's Home Page

Copyright 1996-2003.  Gayle Peterson All rights reserved.

Send Comments and Inquiries to Dr. Gayle Peterson at gp@askdrgayle.com