Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Dethroned 5-year-old won't let baby nap

I absolutely love the Positive Discipline 5 CD set. I feel that if I can do some of the things that are on your CDs that it will change our family's lives. I have been so passionate about this new way of parenting that I actually got my husband to listen to them.
My favorite thing you say is to get excited about a mistake, so that we and our kids can learn from it. Thank you so much for making me fell empowered as a parent. Now if we can only get this thinking into the public school system.

I do have a question. I have a 5-year-old son and three-month-old daughter. My son seems to have adapted fairly well to the new addition but there is one major problem. Every time he sees her napping he will scare her to wake her up. She gets absolutely hysterical, so he gets the reaction that he wants. I do not know what to do. We live in a small 1927 home so the only room that has locks is the bathroom, otherwise, I would just lock her in the room, although, I still think he would find a way to wake her up.

Thank you, Tanya


Hi Tanya, I think you are experiencing a classic case of "dethronement." I'm sure your son loves his baby sister—with mixed feelings. He also sees her as a threat to his place in your heart and isn't sure how to handle this. He isn't even consciously aware of the confusion he is feeling. It goes something like this:

Children are constantly making decisions about how to find belonging and significance in their world. Typically, first born children subconsciously decide that they belong when they are "first" and "best." When another baby is born their world gets turned upside down because, from their perception, the newborn is being treated as first and best. That is how they interpret all the time and attention given to the new baby.

When children "believe" they don't belong, they choose one of the four mistaken goals of behavior (taught by Alfred Adler and Rudolf Dreikurs) of Undue Attention, Misguided Power, Revenge, or Assumed Inadequacy as a mistaken way to find belonging. (Mistaken goal behavior is covered very thoroughly in Positive Discipline.)

It looks as though your little guy has chosen power because he is showing you that you can't make him stop waking her up. It could be "revenge" ("How could you be so mean as to bring another baby into my world to take my place?") Your feelings are the first clue to your child's mistaken goal—as you will see when you study the mistaken goal chart in the books.
What to do? I have several suggestions.

1. Get into his world just to understand. You would probably feel the same if you were in his shoes.
2. Read the following "Candle Story" and then use candles to represent your family and do the same thing with him. (You can see a video of me doing the candle demonstration by going to

Using Candles to Deal with the Belief Behind the Behavior

There is a belief behind every behavior, but we usually only deal with the behavior. Dealing with the belief behind the behavior does not mean you don't deal with the behavior. You are most effective when you are aware of both the behavior and the belief behind it.

The following is a classic example of the belief behind a behavior. Suppose you have a five-year-old boy whose mother goes off to the hospital and brings home a brand-new baby. What does the five-year-old see going on between Mom and the baby? -- Time and attention. What does he interpret that to mean? -- Mom loves the baby more than me. What does the five-year-old do in an attempt to get the love back? -- He may act like a baby himself and cry a lot, ask for a bottle, and soil his pants. Or, he may decide to get attention, power, or revenge by waking her up from naps and upsetting the baby and Mom.

Wayne Freiden and Marie Hartwell Walker have created songs Family Songs,  that help adults get into the world of children and understand the beliefs they could be dealing with based on their birth order. Their songs include seven different birth order positions. Following is one verse from the song, Number One:

Oh it's hard to be number one.
And lately it's just no fun at all.
Life was so nice, when there were three,
Mommy and Daddy and Me.
And now there's another.
And I don't like it one bit.
Send it back to the hospital
And let's just forget about it.

Four-year-old Becky, who could identify with this song. Becky was feeling dethroned by the birth of a baby brother, and was experiencing confusion about her feelings for the baby. Sometimes she loved him, and other times she wished he had never been born because Mom and Dad spend so much time with him. She didn't know how to get attention for herself, except to act like the baby.

One evening, when the baby was asleep, Becky's mom sat down at the kitchen table with her daughter and said, "Honey, I would like to tell you a story about our family." She had four candles of varying lengths. "These candles represent our family." She picked up one long candle and said, "This is the mommy candle. This one is for me." She lit the candle as she said, "This flame represents my love." She picked up another long candle and said, "This candle is the daddy candle." She used the flame from the mommy candle to light the daddy candle and said, "When I married your daddy, I gave him all my love--and I still have all my love left." Mom placed the daddy candle in a candle holder. She then picked up a smaller candle and said, "This candle is for you." She lit the smaller candle with the flame from her candle and said, "When you were born, I gave you all my love. And look. Daddy still has all my love and I still have all my love left." Mom put that candle in a candle holder next to the daddy candle. Then she picked up the smallest candle and, while lighting it from the mommy candle, said, "This is a candle for your baby brother. When he was born I gave him all my love. And look -- you still have all my love. Daddy has all my love. And I still have all my love left because that is the way love Is. You can give it to everyone you love and still have all your love left. Now look at all the light we have in our family with all this love."

Mom then asked Becky if she would like to use her candle to light the other candles, so she could see how she could give all her love away and still have all her love. Becky was excited to try this. Mom snuffed the flame on all the candles except Becky's, and then helped her pick up each candle and hold it over the flame of her candle until it was lit. Becky's eyes were shining almost as brightly as the flame of the candles.

Mom gave Becky a hug and said, "Does this help you understand that I love you just as much as I love your baby brother?"

Becky said, "Yes, and I can love lots of people just the same."

What happens to us is never as important as the beliefs we create about what happens to us. Our behavior is based on those beliefs, and the behavior and beliefs are directly related to the primary goal of all people -- to feel that we belong and are important.

Mom had learned to deal with the belief behind Becky's misbehavior.

3) Set up a special time with him for at least 10 minutes a day that he can count on. Your daughter's nap time might be a good time. During this time you can do whatever you would both enjoy. Then when he asks for your attention and you are too busy, you can say, "Honey, I can't right now, but I sure am looking forward to our special time at 2:00." Of course you will spend much more time with him during the day, but there is a psychological bonus to having "special time."

4) Start having regular family meetings with him so he can use his personal power to brainstorm for solutions to problems—thus developing a sense of his capability. (The fifth CD of the Positive Discipline Workshop you purchased contains an eBook on Family Meetings). One of the first problems you can get him to solve is how to help you have some special time for yourself after spending special time with him when the baby first starts napping. My guess is that he will feel motivated to follow a plan he helps create.

5) Let him have his feelings. There is a difference between what children do and what they feel. Feelings are always okay. What they do is not always okay. "I can see that you are angry, and I really need your help with the baby's naps." (If his mistaken goal is misguided power, this gives him an opportunity to use his power in useful ways.)

6) Help him identify his feelings. There is a feelings poster that can be downloaded. This poster can be used by asking your son to see if he can find a face that represents what he is feeling.

7) Your attitude will help a lot. Hopefully, understanding what he is going through will help you engage with him with self-confidence and encouragement.

A new theme for Positive Discipline is "Connection before Correction." All of the suggestions I have given you help create a connection (so he will feel belonging and significance) before you attempt correction in ways that respectfully involve him to redirect his behavior in contributing ways.

I was so impressed when I heard Toni Morrison say, "Do your eyes light up when you children walk into the room?" What could be more encouraging? Remember, a misbehaving child is a discouraged. All of the suggestion I have given you can be very encouraging.

Hoping this helps,

Jane Nelsen

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