Sibling Rivalry and a Special Needs Child

My six-year-old daughter seems to prefer her two-year-old sister to her four-year-old sister. The two-year-old is very advanced for her age, while the four-year-old has a speech impairment that has affected her social abilities. My six-year-old not only shuns her sister she is also hurtful to her — pinching, hitting, taking favorite items from her.

My six-year-old is normally a very happy, sweet child, both to her other sister and her many school and neighborhood friends. I do not know how to approach this problem.

I hope you can gain some insight on this problem now, and nip it in the bud, because your four-year-old needs all the support and self-esteem she can get — not teasing and criticism. If the problem continues, your youngest child may adopt her older sister’s behavior. One thing is clear — something is really bothering the six-year-old and you need to concentrate on finding out what it is.

What may be bothering her is that she, who once got lots of attention as the “oldest,” is feeling left out. The middle child has special needs, and the two-year-old gets attention as the “gifted baby” who is too young to pick on. The six-year-old gets the attention leftovers.

Observe carefully, and keep track (unobtrusively) of incidents in a log or notebook. Also try active listening with the older sister. Pick a relaxed time when you are alone with her. Say, “Sometimes it seems like you really don’t like to be with your younger sister. Can you tell me more about how you feel?” Or, “Something seems to be bothering you. I care how you feel and will listen if you can tell me about it.” If the problem escalates you may need to see a family therapist.

This is the story about a child whose sibling has ADHD. It explains how the child feels left out because of all the attention that the special needs child is getting from the family. Although your situation is different, this book may give you some clues to your oldest child’s behavior.

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