Q&A: Granddaughter is Very Possessive and Jealous of Other Grandchildren

blockquote_bgI have two darling granddaughters. One will be 2 soon and the other is 19 months. They are both very different. My husband and I babysit the 2 year-old two nights a week from 6 to 9:30 p.m. My other little one lives in further away so we don’t see her as frequently. My inquiry is about jealousy. The two year old (Lisa) is very possessive and attached to me and exhibits it with temper tantrums when little Cassie is around.
On Thanksgiving both babies were here.¬†As I prepared dinner, Lisa threw the worst tantrum I’ve ever seen. I was the only one that could calm her and her father had to finish making the gravy. I love both our little girls but I don’t know how to handle the jealousy/attachment situation – especially when Cassie is with us. Lisa is an only child, as is Cassie, but Lisa does not go to preschool, daycare or a play group. What can I do to help her feel secure with me and be able to “share” me with Cassie? I love them both dearly.

Since your granddaughters are so close in age and the two year-old is not accustomed to “sharing” Grandma with anyone else, her acting out behavior is fairly typical for her age. However, she does need to learn that you can pay attention to her and the other child and in fact, you will do this whether she likes it or not. This may mean putting up with several tantrums which may get worse before they get better depending on how strong willed she is and determined to get her way. What you want to try your best to do is to lavish attention on Lisa only when she participating in an activity calmly with you and Cassie. At their ages they would not be expected to play together or share toys without your adult guidance, they are both in the self-centered “me” & “mine” stage, so the possessiveness related to toys and even people is developmentally expected. But, with your help, both girls can learn to take turns and share with your calm adult direction. Sharing without adult guidance doesn’t come in until around 3.5-4 years old.

Start by picking fun activities that you, Lisa and Cassie can do together without sharing, such as coloring books and crayons-each person can have their own book and 5 crayons for example. Or Playdough, each person gets a can of dough for themselves. Or a bag of Legos or blocks or even dress up cloths work. If you are going to try reading a story, you may need to have duplicate books so Lisa and Cassie can both hold their own copy while you read or name pictures for them.

Keep your language simple, but reinforce that you are Cassie’s Grandma too (developmentally this is very hard for her to understand). Make a big deal out of sharing your own things or food “Grandma SHARED a bite of cookie with Cassie, can you SHARE a bite of cookie with Cassie too?” Grandma gave Grandpa a block, can you give a block to Grandpa? What nice sharing! You may get plenty of “no’s” and “mine’s”, but continue to reinforce and model good habits.

Also, do not expect Lisa to want to share her toys that are kept at Grandma’s with Cassie, so be sure she has a few things that are just “hers” that she does not have to share. Maybe make each child their own bin of stuff that is just special for them and of course duplicates of toys at this age is always a good idea, so if one has a phone, instead of a meltdown, the other one can have one too.

When Lisa is at your house by herself, use a doll or teddy bear to learn turn taking and sharing, so she can begin to do it with a neutral inanimate object before she needs to practice it with Cassie in person. You can also encourage her parent’s to enroll her in a play group or take her to story time at the library to engage in some same age peer interaction when Grandma is not involved.

Put Lisa’s feeling into words for her (something she cannot yet do)…”Lisa is sad because I am talking to Cassie right now, but I am Cassie’s grandma too and I can play with Lisa AND Cassie at the same time because I love them both” or “Grandma is tying Cassie’s show right now, when Lisa stops crying and shouting I will tie her shoes too”.

Music and finger plays are another great way to break the ice with toddlers and work on turn taking. Sing songs like Twinkle Twinkle or Wheels on the Bus where both girls can do hand gestures to the songs. You can make song cards up using pictures that represent the song titles and let the girls take turns choosing a song to sing with you.

As for the tantrums, ignore, ignore, ignore…if Lisa gets attention from Grandma every time she tantrums, she will learn that she gets what she wants by acting out this way. Instead you want her to learn that she will get attention from Grandma when she is playing nicely alongside Cassie or otherwise not melting down in her presence. Try to verbally prepare her in advance when Cassie is coming for a visit and when Cassie leaves than give her some extra special grandma time to reinforce how proud you are of her tolerating the visit.

You can also make a sticker reward chart for sharing and her collect 5 stickers or whatever you decided for sharing Grandma with Cassie or other good behaviors and then she can get a special reward.