Child causes a spectacle by breaking sister's glasses


My 10-year-old daughter wears glasses, and my 5-year-old daughter keeps breaking her sister's glasses. I discipline her, get them fixed, and every couple of weeks, she breaks them again. I am at my wit's end. What can I do?

S.H., Chesapeake, Va.

Buy your 5-year-old some glasses of her own.

That's the advice from the many readers who called Child Life to say the issue here isn't so much about broken glass but about a complicated tangle of emotions your daughter herself may not even be aware of.

"It might be that she's jealous of what she sees as her older sister's fashion accessory," says Mary Bonner of Baltimore.

Once the child experiences the glasses, she may not find them so appealing, says Jamie Horwitz, a reader from Owings Mills.

"Give her a pair to wear around for a week or so and see how she likes it then," Ms. Horwitz says.

The glasses themselves may not be the object of the jealousy, says Dr. Charles Flatter, a professor of human growth and development at the University of Maryland's Institute for Child Study.

"It's not the glasses per se, but what the glasses allow the sister to do or how the glasses affect the parents' behavior toward her," Dr. Flatter says.

The child may even assign more importance to the glasses than they deserve. "She may think that the glasses are responsible for the sister's ability to get away with things or her ability to do special things," Dr. Flatter says. "Is the older child protected by her parents in certain ways because she wears glasses?"

It may be helpful to think about the events that occurred just before the glasses were broken, Dr. Flatter says.

Elizabeth Spears, a parent from Atlanta, says it is worth spending some time trying to figure out what's behind the child's actions, since the feelings may go beyond simple jealousy.

"Does the 5-year-old want to hurt or upset the other child?" Ms. Spears asks. "Is the child allowed to express her anger appropriately? Is the time you spend equal among both children?"

"You might want to talk with her to see if she's feeling the BTC 10-year-old has something she doesn't have," adds Robin Washington, a reader from Baltimore.

Several parents who called Child Life point out that the 10-year-old may not be totally without blame.

"Maybe the older child contributes to the breakage by being careless, leaving the glasses where they can be sat on or stepped on," says a reader from Phoenix, Ariz. "Maybe she needs to put the glasses in a safer place or wear them."

Dr. Roni Cohen Leiderman, associate director of the Family Center at Nova University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., agrees.

In regards to discipline, many parents suggest that the 5-year-old should help pay for the repairs on the glasses.

"Every time she breaks them, have the younger daughter help pay for the glasses," says Mike Bowis of Richmond, Va. "Maybe she can polish brass or silver around the house until she's done a considerable amount of work so she has some idea of the value of money."

Here are some other tips:

* Some 10-year-olds are mature enough to handle contact lenses, says Betty Williams of Midlothian, Va. "My granddaughter started contacts at 8, and her vision has actually improved."

* "Every time she breaks her sister's glasses, the older girl has the choice of removing anything belonging to the 5-year-old temporarily until she stops this," says Mrs. Edward Potter of Easton.

* "Read children's books about wearing glasses, like 'Little Hippo Wears Glasses' to let her know wearing glasses is something serious," advises Theresa Wietstruk of Redondo Beach, Calif.

While a reporter at the Miami Herald, Beverly Mills developed this column after the birth of her son, now 6. Ms. Mills and her husband currently live in Raleigh, N.C., and also have a 4-year-old daughter.

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