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2 Year Old Twins - One with Special Needs

QUESTION: I am a stay-at-home mom for 2 year old fraternal twin girls. My girls were born via emergency c-section, at 28 weeks gestation. My one daughter had a series of complications that have left her with some special needs, and she receives various therapies.

We relocated to a difference state before their first birthday, so we do not have support from our family and friends anymore. The move itself was stressful enough, but to have two small children, one with a disability, made it even harder.

My question is regarding my healthy daughter. Recently, she has been very rough with her sister, hitting, pushing, kicking. I am having a hard time telling if this is normal behavior for her age or if she might be acting out for attention. Over the last years, we have had a lot of people coming to our house to do therapy with her sister, and she has accompanied us on numerous doctors visits. I am concerned that she isn't getting the quality of attention she deserves. We find ourselves asking her to get things for her sister, or help her sister do this, etc. and I am afraid this might not be the right thing to do. We try to include her in what we are doing with her sister, but there are times when she can't participate and she is too young to understand.

Right now it is like raising a 24 month old and a 15 month old at the same time. They can't play with the same toys or do the same activities and they both get frustrated.

Should I plan separate activities with one of the them, while my husband spends time with the other? Is it just a phase that will pass or could it escalate into something worse?

Trust your intuition. You overall assessment that your daughter is angry about not receiving her "fair share" of the family focus is likely correct. You not only have clear judgment as a mother, but great sensitivity towards both of your girls. They are very lucky to have a mother who is looking out for both of them!

It is natural for you to have centered your attention on your daughter who has special needs. And while it is true that your other little girl may have feelings of resentment based on her sister's "special treatment" in the family, you have identified HER feelings very early in life. Parenting is about shifting gears when the need arises, and your daughter has made clear that it is time for a change.

Your plan for spending separate time with each child having their own "Mommy" and "Daddy" time is a good one. Your concern about the possibility of escalating the rivalry your daughter is feeling towards her twin is valid. Given your description of the ways she has had to accommodate her sister's special needs, it is not wise to write it of as a mere "phase". Establish separate activities and be sure to include your developmentally "older" daughter as a focus of family attention, including her sister's ability to be fascinated by her sister, much the way a younger sister accepts an older sibling's separate abilities and attributes.

Given that your daughters are fraternal rather than identical twins, their differences can be accentuated to increase their individual sense of security and "specialness" in the family. Every child needs to know they are "special" which assures them of a secure irreplaceable position in their experience in the family "tribe".

Your brilliant observation that your experience of parenting resembles that of a mother with a 15 month old and a 2 year old is your guiding light! You may want to adjust your parenting to reflect this reality. Separating toys, friends, activities while encouraging a loving and appropriate caretaking relationship towards a younger sibling would be a natural . While parenting twins that have differing developmental maturity is hard, your strength in handling this situation may be facilitated by acceptance of an "older" (developmentally) and "younger" sibling constellation.

In your case, the old adage " the answers to problems lie within" is likely to be true. Perhaps you are wiser than you think!

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Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter..

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