6 year old difficult, reaction to twin toddler siblings?

I am a full time stay at home mom to 18 month old twin girls and a 6 1/2 year old daughter who is in kindergarten (full day). Motherhood has been a joy, even though the hours are ungodly and the pay is bad!!

Anyway, our older daughter is a good kid, very kind and empathetic, great student and never has been a real behavior problem. She has been great with the babies as well from the start.

However, as of late she has changed. She seems suddenly jealous of the time and attention they require and has sometimes said she wishes she was a baby again and even uses a baby voice at times. She suddenly seems VERY hyper at home, always loudly "getting in your face" when we are interacting or playing as a family either at home or with our extended family.

When we do spend one on one time together or have our special "dates" with her somehow many times by the end of the night it has ended with "pushing it" just one step to far, us getting angry for her not listening and doing what we asked of her, and her crying. A terrible way to end an otherwise great time with her.

It just seems as though we just can't do or give her enough attention or time. She seems to always have some type of complaint for me either about what we are doing together, the meal I prepared, the way I brushed her hair..etc... I often must remind her she is not the only person in this family who needs me.

I don't like yelling as it really does little to help the situation but sometimes I feel like screaming. I hate myself for feeling this way but as of late I feel so irritated by her and find myself not enjoying my daughter as I once did. She also has been very uncooperative about doing what she is asked to do: picking up her messes whether it's her toys or a dirty dish, brushing her teeth and getting ready for bed etc...

She also seems to suddenly want to snack all the time. I am pretty careful about preparing healthy meals for my family and don't allow loads of junk/snack food but she is also not deprived of fun snacks either, we have a happy medium on that front. If it was up to her she'd eat all the snacks in one day and we often butt heads over this.

I am hoping this is a normal "kid" things but it's just another thing for her to fight with me about. What am I doing wrong? How can I help both of us get past this and start looking forward to spending time with her again? I hate arguing with her. I've spoken to her teacher and she has seen no change in her and has nothing but wonderful and positive things to say about her. It's like she's a different kid at home.
Sharon

Dear Sharon,
I hear that your daughter is driving you crazy and making it hard for you to be the loving, patient parent you aspire to be. It sounds to me like she is having a very difficult time and desperately needs your help.

Your daughter is loud and in your face. She finds fault with everything you try to do for her. She is always hungry -- and I would guess that it is not a physical, but an emotional hunger. She is uncooperative and resistant. Worst of all, when you do spend special time with her, she tests you in ways that provoke your anger and leave her crying. She is acting unlovable, and my hunch is that's because she feels unlovable.

This new behavior could result partly from the pressures of a full day in kindergarten, but it's probable that this is simply a normal reaction to the presence of two babies at home. It sounds like she welcomed the babies and has been lovely with them until now. That they are 18 months old and she is reacting like this is not so unusual, given that they are entering the terrible twos and are probably becoming more demanding. No doubt the twins keep you busy, and she wishes that she could have more of your time and attention. That your daughter is jealous of the time you spend with the twins and wishes she could be a baby seems a pretty clear indicator.

I suspect that your daughter is testing you because she has some pretty mean thoughts about her siblings, even if she also adores them. Often when kids have angry thoughts about others, they feel guilty, act out, and provoke their parents into yelling at them or punishing them.

So one important thing you could do immediately to change the dynamic is to allow your daughter her full range of feelings. That doesn't mean she is ever allowed to treat her siblings badly. It does mean, though, that she is allowed to tell you that she wishes sometimes that they had never been born, and you can empathize "Sometimes you wish you were my only baby, don't you?"

She will have the feelings regardless, so giving her an opportunity to recognize and express them to you, and to find out that she is still loved, is critical to her mental health. If she has to hide those feelings she will feel like a monster, and will act like one.

The other thing you can do immediately to change the dynamic is to change yourself. I hear how much you want to rediscover your warmth toward your daughter and start enjoying her again. My advice would be to sit down when you can carve out half an hour to yourself and do a little ritual for your relationship with your daughter. Light a candle and ask for help (from God, or your highest self, or the power of love) to heal your relationship with your daughter and be the mother she needs to flourish.

Then think about your daughter's life from her point of view. Look at how much more time you spend with the little ones than with her. Notice that she is only 6, and still needs you desperately. Think about how hard she has to work at kindergarten to keep it together all day. Recognize how much she wishes, secretly, that she could have you to herself, even though she loves the twins. See past her annoying behavior to acknowledge how afraid she is of being displaced by the twins, how afraid she is that she is a terrible person because she is angry with them and with you.

Without judging yourself, just see her life from her point of view, noticing how deeply she needs your approval and how hungry she is for your love. Feel how grateful you are for such a wonderful, healthy daughter. See her growing up and blossoming, with you cheering her on, hugging her and supporting her at each age. See the close relationship you and she could have at each stage of her life, and the deep connection between you. Then give yourself a hug and acknowledge that parenting toddler twins is very hard work, and that giving your daughter what she needs right now at the same time is almost superhuman.

Once you say thank you for any healing and learning, blow out your candle, and write a short list of commitments to your daughter. It might look something like this:

1. Special mommy/daughter time every single day, with ONLY positivity, no matter what kind of testing she does. When our kids test us, it is our job to rise above it and maintain our cheerfulness and empathy, even while we set limits. I'm not saying it's easy, just that it's our job. Use this special time to play games with her that affirm your adoration of her, not to do homework or wash her hair. For examples of such games, see this article (I especially recommend the "Fix" game):
Games to Connect and Build Emotional Intelligence

2. Help for your daughter to express her feelings. She almost certainly won't be able to put her fear into words, but you can be sure that she senses your irritation with her and is afraid she has lost you. When you do spend special time with her, she will begin to feel safe with you, and when your time is coming to an end, she may well provoke a fight with you by in some way testing the limits. For that reason, it is important to allow extra time at the end. For instance, tell her you have ten minutes for Special Time, but be prepared to spend an extra twenty minutes on a meltdown at the end of that first ten minutes. So go ahead and set whatever limits are appropriate, but stay calm and kind, instead of yelling. Remind yourself that your little girl is looking for an opportunity to cry and rage and show you all those feelings that are locked up inside her. When she responds to your calm, kind limit ("We have to stop our Special Time now") with a tantrum, stay with her and empathize: "It makes you so upset that I have to stop being with you now...it is so hard to have to share me all the time." Don't be defensive. Empathize with her feelings so she can off-load them. She will feel so much better, and more cooperative, afterwards.

3. Offer constant love, warmth and tenderness, unsolicited. Find her doing something right, constantly. Express constant gratitude for her patience in the situation, in which the younger kids always take precedence.

4. Don't take her anger personally. See things from her point of view, and notice the deeper meanings. When she finds fault with you, hug her and say "I hear you didn't like that dinner (or the way I brushed your hair, or whatever) and I wonder if maybe you wish I loved you better. But I want you to know that I love you completely, no matter what!"

5. Don't shame her about her needs by reminding her that other people in the house need you. Say "I hear you need me right now. The twins need me right now too. It must be frustrating that I always have to tend to them first because they're babies, but I want you to know that you are just as important to me as they are, and I want to help you with what you need. Come with me to get the twins settled, and then we will take care of what you need."

6. Help your daughter verbalize her feelings so she has more control over them, and less shame about them.
Draw her out about her feelings about the twins, and offer her empathy. One way to do this is to read library books about new babies and little siblings. Let her know that she is loved no matter what, and it is normal for her to feel some negativity toward her siblings even though she also loves them.

You're being asked to find in your heart a deeper love for your daughter. She needs it to grow, and you both need it to heal your relationship. This is the hardest part of motherhood -- and, ultimately, the most rewarding. I wish you and your daughter ever-deepening love.

Dr. Laura

Dr. Laura,
Thank you so very much for getting back to me. Your words have inspired me to put my best effort in repairing my relationship with my daughter. You have given me some wonderful direction and I am going to share it with my husband and try to come up with some ways we can both follow this game plan together, as he has been experiencing the same thing our daughter.
I look at her sometimes and I am so filled with love for her and so in awe of her sheer existence. The fact that I was blessed with having her in my life and feel humbled to be able to mother all three of our girls. I want to do what's best for them always and give them security, structure and guidance but always cloaked in love. Thank you again for your advice and guidance. I will let you know how we progress.
Sharon

Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids

AHA! NEWSLETTER

"Dr.Laura's daily emails are the perfect way to start the day with love and compassion"
-Misti

Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings

CONNECT WITH DR.LAURA ON...

DOES THIS KIND OF PARENTING WORK?

Dr. Laura, you have created miracles, large and small, in so many lives and our children thank you.

WHAT I'M READING

Reviews of the best parenting books l've found over the years