Dear Naomi, I would appreciate your advice on physical disagreements between two toddlers. One child is mine, the other I take care of for a friend for a few hours and we see them a few times throughout the week. Sometimes the bigger child tends to take from the smaller one, push her down, drag her around by her shirt or pin her down. After a few times, the smaller one cries when it happens and seems to ask for help ("mama, mama, mama!"). I think its due to the size difference that the girls always seem to take the same roles. I'm concerned my intervention can disempower either girl, suggest one is a bully or one a victim. How can I best benefit both in this situation? I'll add, most of the time the girls seem really glad to be together and play enthusiastically. But is putting them together with this kind of consistent conflict a bad idea? Thank you!

Dear parent,

Yes, putting two toddler together is setting them up for failure to relate.

If they have a good time together for a duration, then when you sense that their ability to enjoy has ended, you should find a way to engage them separately. Ideally each toddler should have an adult to be with. This is not the age and set up for "empowering" them to find solutions. They cannot. They need to do what they can, not what they can't.

Would you "empower" a toddler to walk the streets on his own or to go swimming? These are obvious because of being dangerous. Think of safe situations in the same way. Life is not threatened, but the toddler cannot navigate relating to another toddler in the same way he cannot navigate the street or the lake. Setting him up to fail is not empowering.

Toddlers interacts successfully with adults and with children much older than they are, who are capable of accommodating their limitations. The toddler learns social skills from relating to someone who already have those skills. The best social interaction for a toddler is with his own mother and father and other loving, socially capable adults and older children.

To get together with your friend, I suggest that you stay focused on being with the children. If you and the mother would like to socialize,

make sure the fathers of someone else can be with each toddler, while they play together or separately as needed.

Warmly, Naomi Aldort,