Evelyn and Mark’s relationship was not exactly warm from the beginning, partly because their mom returned to work shortly after Mark was born. She was stretched thin and stressed by her responsibilities. At the time, their Dad was often traveling for work and missed a lot of the early relationship building.
When Mark joined our daycare at eighteen months, it was evident he was an extremely charming child in every way and did not have to work very hard to get all the attention.
The basis of the family’s relationships was not uncommon i.e. children competing for attention, a second child who is much more assertive than the first, and the parents unknowingly and unintentionally giving much more attention to the younger child than the older one.
Finally what began to alarm us was that the parents were always responding to Mark first as he became a screamer and a tantrum manipulator, completely dominating the family dynamic.
Most of the interactive communication in the family involved everyone talking at the same time. In most cases, Evelyn would start the conversation, Mark would talk over her, at the same time the parents would often be responding to Mark and correcting Evelyn.
The parents were constantly being referees, Evelyn was being held accountable all the time and Mark was given too much power.
There was a total lack of role responsibility and personal respect.
Because we have experienced that situation repeatedly, we were able to help these parents correct the destructive family dynamic by providing the following guidelines.
1. Guarantee the same quantity and quality of interaction with each child.
2. Express yourself respectfully at all times and provide similar terminology for the children that is always used with a respectful tone.
3. Think before you speak and be especially sensitive to the older child’s personality needs. They are often very sensitive to the constant competition.
4.Spend time wisely. Have activities with each child that are interesting, rewarding and relevant.
1. Every compromise or change direction at the expense of the older child i.e. “It’s time to leave the park now.” The older child starts walking to the car-the younger child begins crying that they want to stay longer- the parent changes the course and says they will stay a little longer, and then when the younger child realizes they have won they want to leave and the parents says it is now time to go. We see some version of this behavior all the time.
2. Allow the younger child to interrupt their sibling’s conversations. They have to wait until the initial communication is complete.
3. Say any words that are psychologically or emotionally hurtful if you have to apologize for it.
Typically a second child has no concept of what life could be like if they were an only child, but the first child remembers it well.
Be caring, fair and sensitive!