Sibling Rivalry, what’s good about it , when to interfere, and how to go about it.

14 Nov

I hate you!
I hate you too!

Some of us get to witness interactions similar to the one above way too  often. Indeed, sibling rivalry seems to be the eternal conflict at the very heart of all human relationships. Cain’s feelings for Abel were not very tender, and Jacob and Esau were not best friends either.  Even for  non-believers those biblical stories should show  that those types of conflict are archetypal and ubiquitous, and people have been dealing with them, well, since the biblical times.  What do we learn from the longevity of this conflict? That there must be something good about it! People have been doing it for so long, there must be a reason, a learning opportunity, some kind of benefit hidden in this seemingly unpleasant experience.

What is good about it?

Many wise people pointed out that childhood is a preparation for adult life. Indeed, children go to school to learn academic and social skills necessary to function in the real world, in which they will have to live, once they grow up and leave the protection of parental home.  Conflict resolution is the essential skill children have to learn.  Of course, there is no resolution without  conflict! Sometimes, you might feel that your little ones create conflicts out of nothing, they fight just to fight. And they do! They practice conflicting and fighting in the safest environment possible — their own home. They trust each other to fight excitedly but not to hurt each other too badly. They scream and cry, but in ten minutes they play together again and in 20 minutes they fight again! Do they enjoy it? They do! Children play different social roes and they practice different types of interactions. They need to practice playing an adversary just as much as they need to practice friendship! The beauty with fighting your own brother is that no conflict is final. After all, you are all going to have  a family dinner in an hour! Therefore, in a funny way, fighting strengthens their connection just as much as does peaceful playing.  As long as fights alternate with friendly playing and you see mutual affection among your kids, those conflicts are a normal part of growing up, of testing the limits and practicing different types of interactions.

When to interfere?

Of course, Adam should have taught Cain better!  Obviously, you absolutely must interfere, when you see that one of the children is being consistently hurt, when abusive words are being used or when children cannot restrain themselves from physical violence. You also should interfere when children fight to get your attention. In other words, their fight is no longer about them. It’s about you.

How do you interfere?

Avoid being a judge. In the mist of the chaos, when you have to stop violence, avoid jumping at any conclusion and assigning any blame. Things may not be what they seem. The situation didn’t start at the very moment you decided to interfere, most likely you skipped the beginning, as well as the middle, and it is counterproductive to look for the guilty party. Instead, just tell them firmly, that they must stop right now. At this very moment.Take them apart. Send them into different rooms. Give each of them a glass of water.  Help them slow down and think carefully of what just happened. And then,  make them feel loved. Without going into details, tell each child individually that you love her very much. That she is your joy. That you know she didn’t mean those words. She simply didn’t think it through. Next time she will think before talking (or using her hands). That’s all that’s necessary to stop the situation. Then move on. Have a family dinner, read a book to both of them. Take them outside. Let them know it is not the end of the world, and don’t turn it into something bigger than it needs to be.

Yes, it works in the moment, but then it happens again. And again. And again.

If your children repeatedly use violence you need to look carefully at the “guilty party”.

Mommy, Jonathan just hit me!
Jonathan! No ice-cream for you tonight!

What  just happened? If Jonathan hit his little brother because he thinks you like his younger sibling more than him, you just confirmed his mistaken belief! Remember Cain and Abel? It is indeed damaging and hurtful to doubt parental love, or feel that you are the least favorite child in the family. Remember and old saying that your child needs your love the most, when she deserves it the least?  It’s true about sibling relationship just as much as it is true about everything else.  There are two kids hurting for different reasons. And one of them seems to be undeserving of your love. And she REALLY needs it. In fact, she begs for it.  How about you avoid assigning blame, and, as you always do, provide your kid with what she needs the most at the moment!

How about his response:

Mommy, Jacob hit me!

Oh, honey, I’m sure he didn’t really mean it.  How about I kiss you where it hurts? Now, how about I kiss Jacob where it hurts him.

No, he meant it! He said he doesn’t want me to be his brother! He said he will do it again!

You know, that means he is tired, and needs to spend sometime alone. Sometimes, when you are REALLY tired, you say things you don’t REALLY mean. I’m sure you know that, right? I know you are upset he said it. But let’s give him sometime alone, and let’s see what he says after he rests.

Notice, that you are being loving toward the “guilty child”. You even try to defend him, but you do NOT approve of his actions.  The actions/words were inappropriate. They should not be used, and the only excuse is that they were not meant for real.

Should you demand that the “guilty party” apologize?

No. You should not. An apology is meaningful only if it is sincere. A coerced apology devalues the concept and breeds mistrust.

Should your help your “guilty child” to arrive at sincere apology and warmer feelings toward his little sibling?


How you do that?

Let your “guilty child” talk. Let’s say your 13 year old daughter  constantly yells at her 10 year old sister. You know why she does it? Because the sister is always on her nerves. Always. Acknowledge your “guilty” child’s feelings.  Invite her to talk to you.  When the two of you are alone, tell her:

I know it is difficult for you to get along with you sister. I know you feel annoyed and irritated. I’m so sorry she makes you feel this way.

Your child will feel relieved that her feelings are known and it’s okay to feel that way. She is still loved. After that inviting phrase let her talk. Let her tell you everything about how she thinks. Everything about those occasions when the younger one was teasing her or squeal on her. Everything about those occasions when you kissed the little one, but didn’t kiss the older one. Everything about the special birthday present she had, etc. etc. It might seem unfair to you. After all, you are treating them equally. You love your eldest to death! But drop your defenses for a moment, and just let your child talk.  After she finishes just tell her

I’m so sorry you feel this way. I love you very much. I will think about how to make things easier for you.

That’s all you have to say. This simple act of empathy, humanity and compassion is very likely to do miracles. Your “guilty” child will know that you know his feelings and still love him. You don’t think he is “guilty”, you appreciate how difficult it is for him.  You empathize. You still like him!  Your response will fill your child’s heart with warmth that more often than not will get transferred to his sibling.

I’ve seen it happening many times, once the blame is removed and the feelings are validated, the child that’s been ALWAYS starting the fight realizes that there is nothing to fight for.


Raising bilingual children

12 Jun

How can we help our kids to master 2 (3,4) languages?

Is it even possible to be truly bilingual?

Yes. There are many truly bilingual children and adults, who feel equally comfortable with both languages.  Having said that, there is a great number of people who have one clearly dominant language. For example, my dominant language is probably always going to be Russian, even if for no other reason than its phonetics and phonology. I am probably equally comfortable with reading and writing in English or  Russian, but my spoken English is bound to be accented.  Thus, there is a clear dominance of one language over another.    In fact, it is more often than otherwise that one language dominates the other. Your child may become truly bilingual, but, chances are,  English will be his/her dominant language.  However, you can still help your little one achieve fluency in a second language (L2).

How do children learn languages?

Linguists and Psychologists believe that there are innate mechanisms that allow a child to acquire language relatively effortlessly. One of those strategies is Mutual Exclusivity, an assumption that there is only one name for every object. For example, if you point at a doll and say “doll,” the child knows that this object (doll) has this name (“doll”). If in addition you point at the doll and say “beautiful”, the child knows that “beautiful” cannot be a name for this object because it already has a name “doll”.  Of course, if there are two (or more!) languages, the child will hear two (or more) names for each object. To clear this confusion, the child must first figure out that there are two different languages and then apply Mutual Exclusivity within each language. Thus, even simple word learning will take more time for bilingual than for monolingual children, because to begin learning words, a child needs to figure out that these are two different languages.  To make this work easier, it helps when each person consistently speaks only one language. For example, in bilingual families, the mother always speaking L1 and the father always speaking L2. This clear distinction of social contexts will help the child to distinguish between languages.  Alternatively, at home there is always L1 and in school L2.  Again, the two different languages are clearly distinguished by social contexts.

Another strategy that children use to learn a language is syntactic bootstrapping.

Read this sentence:

Derk here! Derk up! Derk down! Derk who is here.  Derk what you have done! Derk at the book. Derk at me.

it’s pretty obvious that “derk” stands for “look” and the way you figured it out is by paying attention to the structure of the sentences above. It’s clear, for example, that “derk” is a verb.

If a child learns two languages, s/he has to parse (or decipher) two completely different structures, before s/he can use syntactic bootstrapping. For example, L1 can have  a fixed word order, while L2 might have various case markers.  Thus, learning syntax will take more time when the task is to learn two languages and not one.  The best way to help your child is to use the same words in different sentences: “Look, a cat! The cat is purring. The black cat is purring. The cat likes you”.  By using the same word in different sentences, not only you are helping your child to figure out the meaning of this word, you are helping her decipher the entire structure of the language she is learning (its syntax)!

It also helps to play sorting games with your children.  For example, for learning color words, it’s great to sort all red things in one pile and all blue things in another. For learning nouns it’s great to sort all dolls in one pile, and all teddy bears in another (or all toys in one pile and all books in another). It’s also very useful to sort things in accordance with how they are used. For example, all clothing items in one pile and all items related to kitchen in another.  If you have time, draw different objects for your child (a spoon, a book, a pencil, a notebook, a plate, a doll, a ball, a teddy bear, etc), then cut them out with her, and then sort them together in different piles, while describing them verbally. Kids adore this game, and they learn tons of language!

It is true that learning two languages takes more time than learning just one. But don’t be discouraged! Your child will catch up with her monolingual friends and she will speak both languages (although some language dominance is likely to be present) and the second language will make her world richer and brighter!  Read to your children in both languages, and remember that the main function of human language is communicative. So talk to your child! Happy talking! And, of course, happy listening!


8 Jan

  • She cries and screams without apparent reason
  • She covers  her ears when you talk to her, or when TV is on
  • She  is afraid of vacuum cleaner, hair dryer, coffee grinder and other loud things
  • She often closes her eyes or blinks
  • She does not like holding hands, hugging and kissing
  • She wouldn’t touch glue, play-dough, sand
  • She walks on her toes
  • She is irritable
  • She is a picky eater

If any of the above describe your child, then she probably is hypersensitive. We perceive our environment through multiple channels. Sounds, lights, touches, tastes and smells follow us everywhere and usually make our life exciting and interesting.  Unless we are tired, annoyed and desperately need to be alone, of course.

A hypersensitive person feels those lights, sounds, touches, smells and tastes much stronger than most people. One or more of those channels are strangely amplified and utterly inescapable. Thus, a hypersensitive child often feels tired, annoyed, and in desperate need to be alone.   She doesn’t respond to you when you call her? Could be because the frequency of your voice hurts her sensitive ears. She does not want to wear this particular shirt because it makes her itch.  She cannot talk yet, and so she cries and screams as this is her only way to explain to you how difficult it is for her to navigate in this unfriendly and exhausting environment.

How can you help your hypersensitive child?

We are all afraid of the unknown and incomprehensible. Your baby does not know why the light is suddenly so bright or the sound is so loud. Allow her to feel some control over her environment and it will reduce her sensitivities and fears! When my hypersensitive son was a toddler, his camp teacher said that he refuses to go to the pool. I knew that he loved swimming and could not understand his sudden resistance.  I asked the teacher to let me watch the kids swim, and the problem became immediately obvious.  The coach used a whistle, and a very loud one too! So, after hearing it once, my boy screamed and then he refused to enter the pool. When all other kids were splashing, he stayed in his classroom with an assistant and quietly looked through the books.  The next toy I bought was a whistle.  A mild one for a start.  My son was initially afraid of it, but he loves presents. He was also excited about owing something that was specifically his (and not his sister’s).

In a couple of days, after about 2 or 3 my very soft demonstrations, he tried to blow it very carefully.  Then gradually he increased the sound.  I did not pressure him. He held the whistle, he carried it. Occasionally he blew it. After several weeks he was blowing it so loudly, that it became a problem for everybody else in our family. He also started going to the pool.  The idea is very simple, once you know that you control something, it stops being scary (even though it can still be uncomfortable, but to a much lesser degree). So, your job is to help her start this process of gradual desensitization. Show your daughter how to turn on and off that vacuum cleaner. Hold her fingers and help her do it herself. If she cries and resists, turn it on then immediately turn off. Look at her , smile, they say softly “See, it’s off. Nothing to worry about. Do you want me to turn it back on?”  If she shakes her head, follow her lead, but remember to offer he again the next day.  Meanwhile, get her toys that make loud sounds, so that she can play with different sounds in her environment.

These are my favorite toys for a child with audiological sensitivities:

sport metal whistle isolated on white Stock Photo - 12562465

When you show your children how to use these toys, remember to make only soft sounds! Let them learn to increase the volume themselves, and as they get more comfortable with different kinds of sounds your ears will need some rest pretty soon. But being surrounded by variety of sounds won’t be so stressful for your little one, and her screams and cries will be the one sound that will be dramatically reduced. Also, remember, when you talk to your hypersensitive child, remain soft. Whisper. I can never forget a little boy who didn’t respond to me and refused to look me in the eyes during the evaluation, until I started whispering.  Suddenly, he was willing to stay close to me and share his toys with me, he allowed me to touch and hug him. He initiated eye-contact.  I still feel bad for hurting his little ears with my voice. Alas, he is sensitive to the frequency, in which most women speak. No wonder, he responded better to his Dad than his Mom. So, I explained to the Mom, that she needs to learn how to lower her voice and speak quietly.  Meanwhile, get the toys and let the boy play with all kinds of sounds. Just remember, you remain soft and let the loudness come from your boy! Once he get comfortable, your house will get loud, and then even you can become loud, he would not mind it any more.

Following the same logic of putting your child in control of her stressful environment, these are my favorite toy for a child who blinks or closes her eyes.

Product Details

As she plays with her flash light and binoculars, as she puts on and off her new sun glasses, she has a chance to control the changes in her visual environment. She also learns to adjust to those changes better.

And buy her these as well:

Mr Mrs Potato Head Eyes with blue eye lids - Replacement Part

And as she needs something to stick those eyes into, get her the entire toy:

Product Details

Of course, the same logic applies to tactile stimulation. Play with the way you touch her and find what she is comfortable with. Sensory balls are always wonderful:

Washable Sensory Balls

I think, you get the idea about the toys now. Just remember, she must be in control of her environment whenever possible, and if you see that she is afraid of something (sensitive to something) desensitization through gradual exposure is the best help she needs to overcome her sensitivities.

What do I do, when putting her in control is impossible?

Warn her. Give her time to adjust.  For example, your hypersensitive child cannot be picked up without crying. Tell her “Mommy is going to pick you up now. Do you want Mommy to pick you up? Ready? One, two, three.” Approach her gradually.  Speak softly. Place your hands around her and see how she responds. If she becomes fussy, just say “Oh, you don’t want to be picked up now? OK. Next time then.”  Repeat the same approach in a couple of minutes. Every time you want to pick her up, give her a warning. Every time you are about to turn off or turn on the lights warn her “Mommy is going to turn lights on now. You see what I’m doing? Ready? One, two, three, on!”  Soon she will know from your intonation that a change is coming. Give her several seconds to accept this idea and get used to it. She won’t scream then when you turn the lights on or vacuum your carpet. Show her how to turn it on and off so that she feels in control too. All these adjustments significantly decrease your child’s daily stress, so that she does not need to be fussy and cranky, and hopefully, both of you will get some good sleep at night without screaming and crying.

It will get easier. Promise.

Last summer, my son and I were sitting on a beautiful Cape Cod beach watching July 4th fireworks. “Wow!” he screamed “Great! Wow!” He was the apotheosis of happiness.  And I couldn’t help but remember the July 4th only two years ago, when he was hiding under several blankets in his dark bedroom, as I was sitting next to him trying to pat his back and comfort him.  He was terrified by the rockets that our neighbours shot to celebrate.  What a difference those two years made! “I love fireworks!” he said when it was over, no sign of irritation or fear.

Just remember, she does not hug you, does not look at your and does not respond to you not because she does not want to. She needs your love and affection just as much as all other children need parental love. But the way she is touched, looked at, spoken to, makes her uncomfortable because she is hypersensitive. So, there are two main tasks now: First, to train her sensory system and reduce her fear using the above toys. Second,  to find the least disturbing way to interact with her  so that when her mother or daddy pick her up, she feels safe, comfortable and secure.


27 Dec

Does any of the following sound recognizable?

  • Your child is mouthing the toys (and not even toys)
  • Your child is licking tables, doors, windows
  • Your child is biting you and other people
  • Your child ignores speech
  • Your child stares at lights
  • Your child brings everything close to his eyes
  • Your child insists on watching TV for 6 hours a day (and sometimes even during the night).

If you answered YES to any of the above questions, chances are your child is hyposensitive to at least some types of stimulation. What is hyposensitivity?  Well, sensations is something all humans crave.  We enjoy delicious food. We enjoy music. We enjoy nice, warm lighting. We enjoys soft clothing. We enjoy hugs and kisses. So do hyposensitive children. Only they need much more stimulation to feel satiated! Where a light touch would do for you, they crave deep pressure.  Your mouth craves only food, a hyposensitive child needs to lick all shapes and textures (and even sometimes bite them).  You watch TV because you enjoy the show. A hyposensitive child enjoys the sounds and lights coming from the box, and she does not care what the show is about.

Something like this looks ultimately satisfying for a hyposensitive child:

What are the consequences of hyposensitivity?

Hyposensitive children frequently look disoriented.

Where we perceive shapes, they see only contours. Where we hear speech, they hear a subdued and undecipherable acoustic waive.  They often appear aggressive – with all their biting and touching, while they simply crave, crave, crave sensations. Just like all human beings. Only so much stronger.  They climb and jump, they appear not to have any sense of fear, and sometimes cause themselves a real injury.
Many hyposensitive children are diagnosed with Autism.  To me, the label is not important. What is important, is the correct understanding of how your child sees the world and how you can help her to mange this world given her unique perception.

Case Study

Jack (the name is changed), an adorable 2 year old, was brought to me for a routine psychological evaluation. He already has been diagnosed with Autism and the parents were looking for a second opinion. Initially, Jack behaved as a typical autistic child. He did not show us his big brown eyes. He ignored his name. He wandered around the room aimlessly and threw himself on the floor repeatedly without any apparent reason (apart form his vestibular hyposensitivity of course). That was until my co-evaluator, a wonderful Occupational Therapist Irene showed him her sensory toys. He loved the giant sensory Turtle and it’s vibrating hug! That was no light touch!

This is not Jack of course, but this is the turtle:

Giant Vibrating Turtle

And after that satisfying hug, he spent several more minutes squeezing and pressing the sensory ball.

Super Mondo Inside-Out Ball

As he played with the toys, Irene started massaging his back.  As she pressed deeper and deeper, Jack was moving closer and closer to her.  He loved deep pressure. It was soothing. It was calming. It was the sensation that he craved! As she slightly threw him up in the air and caught him, he laughed and returned her hug. More then thirty minutes into the evaluation, he looked into her face and returned her hug! Finally we started seeing his big brown eyes.  While she continued massaging his back, he built a two block tower and completed the three piece puzzle, placing those large circles, squares and triangles turned out not to be a problem at all!  We started saying his name loudly and firmly, and his response improved dramatically.  By the end of the evaluation he flirted with me and with Irene (a gorgeous blond, by the way).  It took us more than 30 minutes to satiate his constant craving, which soothed him and helped him focus on the activities and relate to us.  By the end of the evaluation we hardly recognized the child we met an hour ago.

So, what can you do to help your hyposensitive child?

The answer is simple. You need to satiate his/her craving for sensation (she simply doesn’t get enough from regular stimulation). But you need to do it in a smart way! TV won’t do it. Your baby doesn’t learn how to relate to people from all that flickering.  Your baby doesn’t pay attention to speech. Your baby doesn’t need to respond to TV in any way. She can be completely passive, not understanding a thing, and the stimulation is still coming to her. It flickers and flickers and flickers! And it teaches her NOT to respond. NOT to relate. NOT to learn. Since, as opposed to human interactions, TV keeps “talking to you” even if you don’t respond, don’t understand and don’t relate! If anything, it teaches you how NOT to communicate! And it’s tiring for your child (even if she demands it!) The same carousel of lights and sounds keeps replaying in her dreams, and if your little one wakes up at night, you know what is responsible! So, yes, turn off TV, but not immediately.  BEFORE you turn it of, you need to OFFER something to your child to do instead. Something, that will satisfy her craving for sensations. Get her toys! Get her those special sensory toys!
There are plenty of places on line, but is my favourite! (No, I’m not connected to them in any way!).  And once the toys are in your home, turn off TV.

Offer her a sensory ball. Offer her a rocking horse (kids with hyposensitive vestibular system love it!). Offer her toys that light up and toys that vibrate.  Then play with her. Talk to her loudly, slowly, clearly. Talk to her firmly. Talk to her as she plays. Talk to her about those toys. Show her how to use them. Be almost loud, be clear, be in her face! Remember, hyposensitive kids need a lot more stimulation to get information in! Get your hands on her back, arms and shoulders and massage her. With a hyposensitive child deep pressure is the best! And then throw her up in the air and catch her, and as you catch her look her directly in the eyes! Swing her back and forth. And when she asks for more, say to her, say “more”, “more”, “more”, say it loudly and clearly and give her a chance to repeat. If she doesn’t repeat right away, don’t give up, she will do it next time!  Do this type of sensory playing for 30 minutes, no interruptions please! This type of playing will take a lot of your energy, you will feel drained, but this will be worth it. You will discover a connection with your child, you will give her exactly what she needs! And when the thirty minutes is over, please do not turn on TV just yet. Instead, get dressed and go outside.  Swings and slides and climbing walls are exactly what your child needs! Only this time, please, continue talking with her. Be loud! Be clear! Yell as you run from her, and yell as your run after he. Yell words, phrases, and sentences but be very clear.  And sometimes yell just sounds, and invite her to repeat.  That’s another hour of sensory playing for your child. And if the weather is not cooperating, find inside plagrounds. Remember, her vestibular system needs sensations! And chances are, so does her visual, motor and audio systems.  You can finish your day with 10-15 minutes of playing on the computer. Yes, your child will love it! And although not ideal, computer games are better then TV watching.  At least, they are interactive and require a response from your child. And there are some educational and even sensory games as well. Repeat the same routine the next day, and add a musical toy (a keyboard is perfect) to stimulate your child’ audio system. And please, remember to sing to her, loudly and clearly (you don’t really need to stay in tune). Talk to her between the songs. And as you sing and talk, look into her eyes!  If you do this four times a week (and leave TV watching for those two days, when, as every parent, you recuperate), you will be amazed with how fast your hyposensitive child improves.