Toddler Behavior: When Children Are Stressed About A New House Or New Baby

Dear Dr. Heather, My 2-year-old granddaughter is stressed about her new house. Her parents moved a couple of weeks ago, and then her mother had a new baby. Emma seems to "love" her new brother, so I can't imagine that he is upsetting her. But I am concerned that her mother is not giving Emma new routines in the new house. Emma is overtired and cranky. She is a lovely, intelligent child and I am worried about her. Doesn't she need routines?

Sometimes it's all too much for a little kid!

Chris

Dear Chris,

It's tough being a grandma -- you can see that your kids (and grandkids) are suffering, but there's little you can do about it, since you're not the parent.

But yes, the changes that Emma has experienced are quite pronounced, and even a 2-year-old picks up on all the changes. The new baby is a big part of it, believe me. At times she is thrilled and entertained by the new baby, but deep down she suspects that the baby is the cause of all the problems in her life right now. That's why we always remind parents to NEVER leave a baby alone with a toddler -- no matter how much the toddler "loves" the new baby. Too many "accidents" happen to babies that way. But don't blame Emma -- she really can't help herself. It's her age.

And of course you are right that Emma needs routines, as close as possible to the old routines as possible. But right now, with the new baby, all bets are off. Her poor Mom is struggling with the new addition, PLUS a new house, AND being up all night, and so she gets special dispensation to be disorganized and "out of it". The name of the game now, with your family, is to GET THROUGH IT, in any reasonable way. Let the new routines emerge naturally and support Emma's parents as much as possible. The better they feel, and the more rest THEY get, the more their own natural instincts will kick in, and they'll naturally start to establish new routines.

But if there aren't many routines yet, and Emma is cranky and overtired for a few weeks -- it's OK. We assume that a few weeks' disruption will naturally return to normal after an adjustment period. If not, talk to Emma's parents about your concerns, but until then, I would suggest simply supporting the family and being understanding of a cranky toddler. (And after all, grandmas get special dispensation to spoil their granddaughters, especially when they're a little stressed out, right?)

If things don't improve in a few weeks, let me know.

Aloha, Dr. Heather The BabyShrink