Saturday, February 02, 2008

Feelings, nothing more than feelings.

I've often been told how very lucky I am to have children who get along so well. And I am lucky, so very lucky. However, this week the little darlings have decided to take a vacation from their steady jobs as Best Siblings Ever and my eardrums are paying the price.

As you might have noticed, BubTar is a kind and sensitive soul, which makes him the ideal sibling for KayTar in a multitude of ways. It almost means the biggest thing he struggles with is keep emotions in check, at least to a point. Weeping and gnashing of teeth is not an appropriate response to "Time to brush your teeth." These are the sorts of things he has to be reminded of frequently, because everything just feels so giant in his heart. On the flipside of that coin, while KayTar can be a highly emotional (sometimes to the point of volatile) little girl, she has no grasp of the feelings of others. She doesn't even understand people HAVE feelings. She surely doesn't understand how someone else's feelings can be hurt or what that even looks like.

So this week, I have been treated to several showing of this little play.

[enter BubTar, stage right. Briskly walks across the stage and dashes up the stairs. A door slams]

Mom: BubTar, what's wrong?

BubTar: She hurt my feelings. She doesn't even CARE. I'm NEVER COMING OUT. NEVER. I WILL JUST STAY IN HERE FOREVER. FOREVER! [cue heaving sobs]

KayTar: Where's BubTar? BUBTAR! Pum back hee-yah!

Me: BubTar is SAD. You made BubTar feel sad.

KayTar: [cue crickets]

Me: BubTar is crying.

KayTar: Stop dat cwhyin.

Me: Say "I'm sorry BubTar."

KayTar: I sorry BubTar.

Me: BubTar! Did you hear that? She said she is sorry.

BubTar: [opens the door]

KayTar: BubTar! Ef you are, BubTar! Come hee-yah!

Me: KayTar, can you HUG BubTar and say you are sorry?

KayTar: [willingly complies]

And off they run together, until it happens the next time.

Then I beat my head against the wall because I don't know how to stop the cycle, except to split them up, which I usually end up doing, at least for a short time. Neither of them are fond of that either, because they do love to be together. Here is my dilemma, Josh and I have explained to BubTar that she doesn't understand what feelings are or how she hurts them. She is only aware of herself. But that doesn't stop his little heart from being stomped on several times a day. And KayTar, she doesn't even know anything has happened, she surely can't rectify it or stop the behavior without knowing what it is. And so I am stuck being the referee between two people who seem to speak completely different languages. BubTar with all his understanding and KayTar with all her knowledge. I don't know how to bridge a gap like that.

KayTar does have some understanding of her own feelings, when she cries she frequently says, "I cwhyin! I sad, Mommy!" but that same knowledge doesn't translate outside of herself. You can show her a frowning picture and she could label it "Sad." but she doesn't understand what that means for the other person. She is labeling a object, not recognizing the emotions of another person. It all seems very fine line, but I am with her daily and she doesn't grasp the notion that there are feelings that exist outside of herself. She is interactive and loving and all sorts of wonderful things, but awareness of others is not one of those strengths. It falls into that pesky category of abstract concepts that she doesn't have a handle on. But this one, unlike the others, is a bit problematic in every day life. It creates a situation that is very hard to mediate fairly. I won't discipline her for something she can't understand, but I also don't want BubTar to continue having his wee heart stomped on repeatedly. It is a tough spot.

The thing is, and feel free to chime in on this, I don't know if this is a KayTar-specific problem or an age-appropriate problem. The diagnostician at her Big Eval said that emotional awareness isn't usually present at this age, but I know from my experience with BubTar it was, at a much earlier time no less. However, he has a giant heart and a strong emotional awareness in general and it might just be him. From literature I've read, it does seem to be something acquired between the ages of two and three, and from my experiences with other kids KayTar's age it does seems to be something typically present. Most kids, I think, are showing some sort of concern for others by now. If they saw a loved one crying, they might attempt some sort of unprompted comforting. Or maybe just say, "Are you sad?" Or if someone fell down and got hurt, they might acknowledge it in some way. If you have a NT (neuro-typical) child KayTar's age, do they have any sort of emotional awareness outside of themselves yet? Do they acknowledge the feelings of others in any way? Or attempt to extend comfort? If your child doesn't have this sort of awareness, how do you navigate these kinds of situations? And you know, any other sort of information you think would be helpful. It takes a village and the Blogosphere makes a pretty nice little village, I think.

EQ and IQ respectively.


Don Mills Diva said...

I onlyhave one and he's only two but my instinct is that this is normal for someone Kay-Tar's age. I will be interested in reading others' responses..

Kristin said...

Oh my gosh, I'm sorry but your script had me and Jason laughing so hard. "Cue crickets"!!! You crack me up, my friend. "Enter BubTar, stage right" Oh my gosh, soooooo great.

But at the same time, I'm sorry for all of this. And I'm not just saying I'm sorry, I understand that you have feelings. It's really tough to say, I know some of Easton's same-age friends definitely do not understand the feelings of others, but I feel like Easton does. I think rather highly of him most of the time though, LOL.

I'm not looking forward to this for myself one day, i can tell you that. I'm hoping someone has a magic answer for you.

Poor BubTar.

Anonymous said...

I have a very sensitive boy myself, although he is 9 yrs old, much older than Bubtar, I don't think he really grasped how others felt until age 3+. I think its very age appropriate for Kaytar to not understand how Bubtar or anyone else may feel. One thing you may try is to have Kaytar there with you when your consoling Bubtar and have the feelings explained. For example:

You: "Bubtar I see you are crying. Kaytar do you see that Bubtar is crying?" "Why are you crying Bubtar?"

Bubtar: "Because Kaytar hurt my feelings."

You: "Bubtar, how does it make you feel when Kaytar hurts your feelings?"

Bubtar" ___ (insert feeling here. ie. Frusterated, sad, angry)

You: "What did Kaytar do to hurt your feelings?"

Bubtar: "_____ (fill in action here)

You: "Kaytar when you do _____ it hurts Bubtars feeling and makes hime feel ___" "Can you please say your sorry and give Bubtar a big hug."

It will take a while for her to grasp it but at least she will see how to resolve the issue and they will both learn how to communicate the issue at hand.

This is one of the ways that my oldest learned to talk things through with others in a positive way. Its a hard concept to master, even as adults how to share feelings and accept responsibility for ones actions.

Nicole from Arlington

Katie said...

ditto what Kristin said about the crickets, you got me on that one! I must say, since you've started back to school, I've noticed quite a difference in your style of writing, I like it =)

I think the fact that Kaytar can label her own feelings is certainly in your favor. If it is age appropriate, then perhaps she just hasn't branched out to others feelings yet. For us, Adriana can't really label her own feelings, much less others. I'd say she'll get to Bubtar's feelings one day.

amanda said...

My fairy god daughter, Sophie, has pdd and has placed onto the autistic spectrum. She currently is operating at about a 2 1/2-3 year old (she is 5 1/2)and has just now started to understand her affect on others. She started about a year ago understanding emotions in other people. We have simply reinforced behavior modification with her.

Aliki2006 said...

Hmmmm...this is a tricky one. T. has always shown lots of emotional awareness and has been drawn to people's faces and expressions from a young age. L. HAS emotional awareness of others in an abstract way, but he is unable to act on it or articulate this. If he's talking, for instance, about a pet subject matter and T. falls off the kitchen chair and starts crying (as happened recently) L. will not miss a beat but keep on talking through her crying. Then he'll get upset with us because we have turned our attention to T. He has a hard time with empathy, in general and with interrupting what he's doing to act on other people's emotional needs.

He used to have a hard time telling us when he was angry or stressed or hurt, but this has gotten much better. He can say "this upsets me" or "I'm stressed out" but he often doesn't quite now how to fix that yet. He can't, though, turn that on someone else and say "T. is upset" or "T. is angry with me" and he doesn't seem able to find the fine line between degrees of emotional responses. For him it's either all anger or all frenetic excitement, and not much in-between.

We saw much of this in L. at a young age and while some was age-appropriate, we know now that much was not.

flutter said...

Oh babe, I wish I knew what to say.

InTheFastLane said...

Jack Jack is 2 1/2 - he does seem to be aware of feelings. Yesterday at the dr. when he heard a baby crying he told me that we should go check on it. He tries to make others feel better if they look sad. BUT- Jack Jack and Dash are constantly bickering and they are 6 years apart. Jack Jack seems to delight in annoying his much older brother and I feel like a constant referee as well.

Anonymous said...

Ethan doesn't have it, but then again, Ethan isn't neurotypical. I'll be interested to see what others say though.

Anonymous said...

It's normal for that age. I have a boy and girl with the same EQ / IQ situation as yours. Think personality differences, and those differences make them seem SO different developmentally. But they're fine, they're just who they are! Maybe K will just be the girl who takes no crap from nobody - even when they cry!

Anonymous said...

I think you've gotten some good advice here. I think no matter what when you have kids reasonably close together, you end up doing lots of coaching through conflict - to help both of them. Our scenario is that LP does experience empathy he just doesn't always have the impulse control to resist "temptation." He seems to know when he has crossed the line - or more importantly, not when he is about to cross it.

natalie said...

I'm responding as if I were speaking to myself...I hope this doesn't come across as bossy or nosey or strongly offensive:
I am SO completely with Nicole from Arlington. I think at some point, KayTar will need some discipline (not negative...just discipline) because she is hurting her brother's feelings (I COMPLETELY understand your hestitation, though). BubTar would be disciplined if he was unkind to a friend that comes for a visit. BubTar is KayTar's only playmate at home, so she definitely needs to be taught what is hurtful to her brother, whether she completely understands or not. We use vocabulary with our children before they fully understand, etc, so I think the teaching part is okay before she fully grasps the emotional impact she has on others or their reaction to her actions. I love Nicole's suggestion about how to explain things. That would help KayTar and BubTar. BubTar might be able to get to the point where he can say, "KayTar, you've hurt my feelings. I'm going to my room for a few minutes until you can (be whatever, stop doing whatever, etc.). Do you do social stories with KayTar for other situations? She may not be old enough quite yet for those, but this is a fantastic start. We use social stories a lot in the classroom to teach a variety of appropriate responses, reactions, etc. Social stories also give students the background they need to rely on when they are in the actual situation.

You are a fantastic mother. I'm sorry that you are playing the role of referee. I completely, one hundred percent, support any decision you make. I so look up to you for parenting advice.

Kyla said...

Thanks everyone!! This is great information!

The other issue that compounds how I can handle things is that KayTar cannot understand or participate in a conversation. So although I might try to explain things to her or start a dialogue of sorts between she and I or her and BubTar, she can't grasp it. This is one of her behavioral delays, she should be able to converse by this point. So I feel limited in handling this situation as well as a multitude of others, because we are stuck in the sort of discipline that you do with infants. You know, avoid temptation, redirect, remove from situation...that sort of discipline. Because she can't grasp the logic it takes to explain things to her (not that we don't try).

I really appreciate the input, keep it coming!

painted maypole said...

oy. I think three is the age that kids start to get it, so maybe there is hope that KayTar will start to develop that. MQ still sometimes doesn't get it, and she's 5. Little kids just expect the world to revolve around them, and some take longer to learn empathy than others. I think, though, that you are right not to punish her for it, because I believe that she truly doesn't get it.

Beck said...

The Baby will walk right up to one of her siblings and just smack them right in the face.
"Ha ha, you cwyin!" is then her response. I think I'm raising a baby alligator. So I don't know what the answer is at your place - The Baby has a lot of same-aged friends and some of them DO show the beginnings of compassion, while others are little thugs, like my gal. We do a lot of practice play with baby dolls, and I think that they're VERY important for teaching gentleness and compassion.

Bea said...

Pie has some degree of emotional awareness - she will respond empathetically to characters in stories, for instance, or attempt to intervene on behalf of her brother if he's upset. (I don't really see those signs of emotional empathy in Bub, though he has a gentle temperament that prevents him from being really hurtful most of the time.) Despite her dawning empathy, Pie is also capable of quite mean behaviour (as I posted awhile ago).

Behaviourist approaches are quite limited when it comes to empathy and social awareness, I think. That doesn't mean we shouldn't use them - but there's no real way to codify the subtleties of body language and facial expression that can often lead to hurt feelings.

Girlplustwo said...

well, damn. M and I have these sorts of arguments all by ourselves lately.

Christine said...

this is a tough situation.

all i can offer in the way of advice is to just keep doing what you are doing.

soon bubtar will understand a little better.

Running on empty

kittenpie said...

As I understand and recall, two is an unusual age to have real understanding of others' emotions. They tend to still be self-centered in the pure meaning of only knowing about themselves. It's also why sometimes they react to another child's distress by getting upset or angry themselves - because any empathy they might have means mirroring the emotion themselves, and they get upset about feeling that upset. That's early emotional response, before they can start to both understand and separate. Later, they learn to understand that others have their own emotions and that they might have an impact on them. So yeah, it could be totally typical.

On thing that I have heard of being used to teach kids on the autistic spectrum about emotions is the Thomas videos. The situations are very social, the emotions typical of those encountered by children in social interactions, and the facial expressions very obvious. So watching it and talking about how that train might feel and why can help them start to understand and identify. (And similarly with other books, and so on, too, but Thomas is apparently used for it's clarity.) Just a thought.

Gretchen said...

I wish I had an answer for you, but I don't. I have to ditto word-for-word what Kristin said. You are hilarious! I love how you write Kaytar's speech. Thank you for sharing your angels with us and I hope something works out soon for Bub and Kay.
God bless!