Is blindness a factor in siblings' relationship?

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  June 17, 2010 06:00 AM

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Barbara,

My question is in regards to biting, hair-pulling, and temper tantrums.

I have 2 little girls, a 3-year-old who is blind and a 1-year-old. My 3-year-old is very outgoing and sweet, my 1-year-old is outgoing and feisty! The 1-year-old is tormenting my 3-year-old! Pulling her hair, biting her, and then my 3-year-old pushes her.

It's getting to be a problem because my 3-year-old used to love my 1-year-old so much. She was the first thing she talked about in the morning and the last thing she talked about before sleep. Now, she doesn't want to be around her. I don't blame her with all the hair-pulling and biting. It's tough because she doesn't see it coming. I try to tell her that my 1-year-old is only a baby and doesn't understand these things. But still, what can I do?

I have tried telling the 1-year-old ' be gentle' and showing her how to touch gently. I have tired many things, including pulling her own hair - which I never thought I would do! Help! Thank you!

From: Julietnan, San Diego, CA


Hi Julietnan,

That your 12-month-old is biting, pulling hair, etc., is most likely due to her inability to express her needs and frustration. While telling her to use her words and to be gentle is good in theory, what you need to do in the moment is:

Anticipate the frustration, label it and give her words to express it, and then redirect her: "Oh, you want that toy, don't you? You really want it now! I can see you are getting really frustrated. Can you ask your sister for a turn?" Harvey Karp's "Happiest Toddler on the Block" is all about meeting your child at her level, which lets her know that you are sympathetic and understanding and that you will help her to cope.

Be vigilant. This is a stage and it will pass, but in the meantime, it may not be a good idea right now to leave the two of them alone together because you can't leave up to chance when frustration will drive the baby to pull hair, etc. For the times when you aren't able to nip it in the bud, you need to be quick: "That's no! No pulling hair! No!" And then remove her from the action immediately. Physically pick her up and put her out of the play: "Play by yourself over here. When you are ready to play without pulling your sister's hair, you can play together again."

Responding quickly and repeatedly in exactly the same way (and without a whole lot of emotion on your part) is the most effective teaching method for this. Of course, you also need to comfort the victim, but don't over-do that, either. ("That hurt, didn't it? We are trying to teach your sister how to play without pulling hair.")

That your older daughter is blind is probably not a factor -- yet -- in the sibling dynamic. But I wonder: how does it factor into your parenting? All parents must figure out how to meet each child's individual needs as well as the needs of the family as a unit; when one child has a chronic illness or life-long challenge, parents face an even greater challenge. My best advice to seek professional guidance as well as peer support from parents who have faced this challenge.

One more thing... you never imagined yourself pulling your child's hair for a reason - it's a terrible idea! All it teaches is that it's OK for big people to pick on little people.

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1 comments so far...
  1. There is a very good chance that YES the little rugrat does know that her older sister's eyes are not tracking her presence. Being a year old she does not understand the complexity of blindness but she sure can see there is something missing. Vision is hardwired--why else do we put mobiles in the line of sight of tiny babies?

    This has been reinforced by the rugrat's success at attacking the older one from behind. The repeated attacking is the rugrat's way of testing her perception that the older sister cannot track motion.

    I doubt that words or explanations are going to register. The older sister should be taught to grab the little one's hand and hold onto it for as long as she can--the little one will get tired of the game very quickly if she ends up being restrained every time she tries the sneak attack.

    I wonder how the long explanation works except to give the little one attention at her preverbal age when she is testing her world for its actions. It might be smarter for the parent present to pay attention to the attacked older one--to pick her up and calm and commiserate with her--and ignore the attacker. This gets the message across very quickly that attention will NOT come out of attacks.

    It's vital to give each girl a set amount of daily one-on-one time like a half hour--switching parents on alternate days so that dad has the same value as mom.

    Posted by Irene June 17, 10 09:59 PM
 
1 comments so far...
  1. There is a very good chance that YES the little rugrat does know that her older sister's eyes are not tracking her presence. Being a year old she does not understand the complexity of blindness but she sure can see there is something missing. Vision is hardwired--why else do we put mobiles in the line of sight of tiny babies?

    This has been reinforced by the rugrat's success at attacking the older one from behind. The repeated attacking is the rugrat's way of testing her perception that the older sister cannot track motion.

    I doubt that words or explanations are going to register. The older sister should be taught to grab the little one's hand and hold onto it for as long as she can--the little one will get tired of the game very quickly if she ends up being restrained every time she tries the sneak attack.

    I wonder how the long explanation works except to give the little one attention at her preverbal age when she is testing her world for its actions. It might be smarter for the parent present to pay attention to the attacked older one--to pick her up and calm and commiserate with her--and ignore the attacker. This gets the message across very quickly that attention will NOT come out of attacks.

    It's vital to give each girl a set amount of daily one-on-one time like a half hour--switching parents on alternate days so that dad has the same value as mom.

    Posted by Irene June 17, 10 09:59 PM
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Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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