Sibling Dynamics

This post may be both me venting and asking for advice. There’s a lot going on in our family right now- as I’ve mentioned before, we are trying to move and create a more family/kid friendly lifestyle. The process of selling our home, which hasn’t happened, has been beyond stressful. And of course we added a new baby to our bunch less than 6 months ago. And while he’s of course a precious blessing, babies by nature don’t exactly ease an already stressful situation. 

So, all that being said, the problem I’m writing about today may be perfectly normal considering the circumstances (or even not considering the circumstances). But I really don’t know, other than I’m tired of it and upset by it. 
Since Nolan was born, Charlotte has been downright mean to (or really, about) Grayson. She tells me at least 10 times a day that “I don’t like GG, I like Nolan.” and “I like Nolan the best”. When Grayson retches, she screams and says “No GG, STOP- I don’t like that noise!” and when he’s throwing up and I’m in the middle of holding his head she’s whining at me about a snack, or to come play with her, completely unsympathetic to her brother’s pain. But to be fair on that one, his constant retching/throwing up is all she’s ever known- it’s “normal”. 
The worst is when we are taking and picking Grayson up from school. Charlotte gets SO angry and that’s when the chanting “I don’t like GG” usually begins- in the car. If we have somewhere to go after we drop him at school, a lot of times when we pull into the parking lot of his school she gets hysterical. And she never, ever gets in the car in the afternoons to pick him up without complaint. 
Charlotte adores Nolan. She will get him a blanket, diaper or toy when I ask, but never when I ask for Grayson. She loves helping me make his bottle. She asks me where he is every morning and has started playing with him. Of course, he gives her more feedback than Grayson does, but he’s also a lot louder. Strangely though,his crying doesn’t really bother her other than in the car, and she never acts jealous or upset when I’m nursing him or doing anything else just with him. 
I guess I’m wondering why we have this sibling dynamic and what I can do to change things. This started right after Nolan was born and I thought it would be temporary, but it’s not getting better. I’ve tried talking to her about using kind words, I’ve gotten angry at her, and right now, I’m just ignoring her and telling Grayson I love him when she starts in on her chants. 
And I’m also wondering at what age and how I start explaining Grayson’s disease to his siblings. I have a hard time explaning it to adults, much less a three year old. Charlotte has never said anything directly about her brother being different, and the few times I’ve sort of brought it up didn’t bring any meaningful feedback from her at all. But I do know she’s starting to realize that there are a lot of things we can’t do when Grayson is with us, and I’m afraid that’s really going to be damaging to their relationship. 
All this is so hard. I so want our typical kids to love and protect their brother as much as Ryan and I do, but I also want to be sensitive to the fact that there are inevitable negative implications to growing up with a special needs sibling. I also think it’s got to be especially hard to be the brother or sister to a child with disabilities as profound as Grayson’s. 
So…how worried should I be? Anything obvious I should be doing/saying to Charlotte about this? 


  1. Courtney on February 17, 2016 at 1:21 pm

    This is heartbreaking. I would be devastated too. With that said, I do think it's normal, especially for a precocious girl like Charlotte. She is very aware of the differences and I think she really wants someone to play with, and I bet she wants that person to be her GG. But her GG can't be that person so she's mad at him. Much like a kid who acts out at his parent with cancer.

    I think talking about Graysons disease tertiary is a good idea. I would bring it up early and often, so that it's an approachable subject for her. I'm no psychologist and I don't have a special needs kid, but I think this is very much like handling race with kids. We all, in the context of race, look different and we need to talk about it because we do not want our kids to be “color blind.”. We want them to understand the different things that come with being a certain race, good and bad. Same with disabilities, in my opinion. Charlotte needs to start understanding what GG gets because of his condition, and what he doesn't get because of it. Those conversations, simple as they can be right now, may help her acquire some empathy.

    Agree 3 is when they start feeling empathy for others, so it's not upsetting to me that she has none yet for Grayson. Given the extreme difficulties that he has and their impact on her, she probably needs more help being taught empathy, which is the opposite of what you'd expect, I know!

  2. robyncalgary on February 17, 2016 at 4:42 pm

    Without having experience with special needs kids, my first thought is yes 3 year olds are naturally very self centered so anything that doesn't have to do with her could frustrate her. Nolan is a baby so it may make sense to her that he needs attention that takes away from her. But she sees other 5 year olds not needing the attention G does so that makes less sense to her. BUT with that said, personally while I understand her feelings saying hurtful things wouldn't fly with me. You can be sympathetic to her feelings without letting her “be mean” to G. I would probably use words like “it's ok to be (mad, grumpy etc) but it is NOT OK to say you don't like G. We are a family and we love each other even when we're (frustrated, sad etc).” Maybe give her the words like “I'm so frustrated right now!”

  3. Diane on February 17, 2016 at 7:21 pm

    Sounds like she has figured out that either she can hurt you by being ugly to Grayson and/or that “negative” attention is better then no attention(after all before baby she had a lot more one on one with you). Special needs or not G is her older brother and I suspect that is exactly what he is to her not her “special needs brother vs baby brother”. Generally children don't have that type of bias unless they watch a lot of LifeTime TV 🙂 . I think most children instinctively know that babies need love and attention and tend to protect the babies. So you will have to change how you respond to her when she behaves that way. Children generally mimic behavior that will get them the most positive attention, but if they cannot get that they will take negative attention for the sake of getting attention. We had a zero tolerance in our home from the time they began to interact for hurtful behavior. Even a 1 year olds easily understand the difference between hurt and kindness. Ball is in Mom's and Dad's court to help her change her behavior.

  4. Down On The Farm on February 17, 2016 at 10:35 pm

    Hello my friend. I agree completely with Diane. Charlotte sounds like she has found a way to manipulate you and as long as you respond to her she will continue. She is definitely old enough to understand what she's doing, so she is doing it on purpose. You need to make it completely clear to her, 100% of the time, that this behavior is not acceptable and that she will be punished if it continues. Simple as that. No matter how big of a fit she throws, I would not tolerate her being mean to G, and she is being flat out mean. Being a mom is tough, but you have to take control back from Charlotte. She cannot be allowed to manipulate you. And right now, she is. Time to take a stand my friend.

  5. Yazj42 on February 22, 2016 at 12:50 am

    My three year old says the same thing about her younger sister. She just sees him getting a lot of your attention and is reacting, very normal. Maybe you should do a mommy and me date every few weeks? Or just give her undivided attention a few minutes a day, like read a story of color. I know that's really hard to do with three kids. Good luck! Your doing great.

  6. Becky on February 24, 2016 at 2:05 pm

    Have you heard of “special playtime”? It's a technique used in a therapy modality called Parent-Child Interactional Therapy. Essentially, you have 5-10min/day when you and Charlotte have one-on-one time, during which she gets to completely direct the play. You follow her lead, let her choose what the two of you are going to do. There's more to it than that, of course, but it's quite successful in addressing lots of behavior issues. My (professional) guess is that Charlotte, being a typical 3yo (my very least favorite age, btw) has figured out that she can get your attention by saying these things about G. It's not manipulation. It's done to get a need met (just like any other need). Using PCIT, is an opportunity to help the two of you feel more bonded (though OF COURSE you are bonded with her) and and give her the one-on-one time solely focused on her that she likely needs right now. Letting her direct and be in charge of this time also allows her to be in control, which every 3yo wants 😉 Good luck, mama. #'s are so challenging.

  7. Becky on February 24, 2016 at 2:05 pm

    3's, not #s 🙂

  8. […] truly teach my younger kids how to have empathy for Grayson. Thankfully, we aren’t having the issues we were dealing with a few years ago, but the special needs siblings who live in my house do not […]

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