Toddler Development: Problems with School and Sibling Rivalry

It’s been two weeks since Gavin started back at school for the new year.  Unfortunately, it looks like my early celebration of how well he took it seems to be a tad premature.  After that wonderful first day back, his attendance to school has been on the decline.  The last few days, he would howl all the way to school and kick up a huge fuss at the door to the school.  It was breaking my heart to see him cry like that until his godmother – who usually drops his god sister and brother off at school after us – told me she spied him playing happily at school with the other kids with no evidence of the earlier distress.

Now I’m finding myself at odds with what I should do with him and school.  Has Gavin mastered the art of playing my emotions or is he really distressed about school?  He usually seems in good spirits when I pick him up from school.  He also appears to do better when someone else other than me sends him to school.  It almost seems as though he reserves his worst crying fits for me, Mummy, who is putty in his hands whenever he cries like that.  When he’s at home, he also seems to be okay – his usual chatty self, so school cannot be as traumatic as he makes it appear.  Then again, I don’t exactly want to wait until he becomes reticent before I decide that attending school right now might actually be damaging him on an emotional level.

He had been doing so well last year.  So I’m wondering what the change might be due to.  Is it:

  1. Sibling rivalry finally kicking in with full force?
  2. The change from half day to flexi?

It is difficult to say which it might be, but I’m inclined to think that perhaps it is a little bit of both.  I had hoped that the flexi program would help achieve three things:

  1. Encourage him to eat a wider variety of foods (since he always seems to eat better when he is with his god brother).
  2. Encourage him to sleep without having to nurse.
  3. Interact better with his peers.

Now I am beginning to think that the latter has never been a problem.  After witnessing the way Gavin interacts with his god brother, I’m beginning to think that he’s just a child that forms a few deep friendships rather than many superficial ones – not exactly a bad thing.

As for the sleeping without nursing, after my stay at the hospital, I also know he is capable of doing that, even if he’s become more demanding of the breast these days (which I suspect is due to sibling rivalry and his need to compete with his brother).

Regarding the hope that he would expand his repertoire of favourite foods, I think we can toss that one out the window because it doesn’t seem to be happening.  I’m sure in time to come he will learn to eat a larger variety of food – eventually.

In recent times, it appears that the sibling rivalry has jumped up a notch.  Recently, Gavin told my SIL2 that he wanted to be a baby again because everybody carries Gareth and nobody carries him.  Although that isn’t technically correct, because we do carry him still, I’m sure in his point of view he isn’t carried nearly enough since Gareth has to be carried all the time and he doesn’t.  Since Gareth is unable to walk, there really isn’t a whole lot we can do to correct this disparity.

Tonight, while I was nursing the two boys to sleep, Gareth began to get fussy on the breast and Gavin said, “I can’t sleep because Titi (little brother) is disturbing me.”

Earlier today, my MIL and FIL tried to lure Gavin out with them while I stayed home to look after Gareth.  It took a lot of convincing before he finally agreed to go without me.  Unfortunately, he cried in the car all the way saying he wanted me.  My FIL is convinced Gavin is too attached to me because I’m still nursing him and believes the problem will correct itself if I stop.

If only it were that simple.  As it is, I’ve already had to limit his time on the breast so that I can express milk and he does not take it very well.  To deny him the breast completely would only serve to increase the sibling rivalry – which I believe to the the underlying factor for everything.

Although Gavin claims he wants to be home with me, I suspect the greater motivation for staying home is because Gareth is home.  I initially thought he wanted more time with me, so when Daddy is handling Gareth, I attempted to engage Gavin with some special Mummy-Gavin time.  Gavin wasn’t interested at all.  He kept going back to Daddy and Gareth.  And when my MIL is carrying Gareth, Gavin flocks to her side.  Wherever Gareth is, there you will find Gavin.  The only reason it appears as if Gavin wants me is because Gareth is most often with me.

So what should I do?  Any thoughts?  Personally, I was thinking of cutting back his hours at school since the flexi program doesn’t appear to be achieving its aims.  We’ll switch back to half day once this term is over.  I have tried encouraging more interaction between Gavin and Gareth (although it’s more like allowing Gavin to play with Gareth) but Gavin is so aggressive with his actions sometimes I have to keep holding him back so he doesn’t inadvertently hurt his baby brother.  I am constantly reminding him of his strength and the need to be more gentle with his brother.  Other than that, I really don’t know what else to do.

Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

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