Finding Meaning in Your Child’s Behavior
By Laurie Hollman, Ph.D.
PART TWO : Stories of Parental intelligence in Practice
Chapter Seven: Jealousy in an Identical Twin
Mr. and Mrs. Richards give birth to identical twin boys, Clive and Ari. Clive, the more vulnerable infant receives primary care from his mother while his father cares for the more robust Ari. Unaware of continuing this pattern, the parents tended to favor each of these twins as the boys grew older.
By kindergarten, amiable Clive begins hitting his loved brother, Ari, in school and at home. The teacher and parents are befuddled by this unexpected, puzzling behavior. The parents decide to use their Parental Intelligence to figure things out.
Mr. Richards realizes that the hitting started after he began taking long business trips. He also realized Clive hit his brother after Dad spent time with Ari alone. Reflecting on his feelings, Dad considered that Clive was distant before and after his business trips. Dad felt rebuffed and rejected and wondered if that was a clue to how Clive felt, too. By then Dad believed that the hitting had meaning.
Understanding Your Child’s Mind
During the month he was working from home before his next trip, Mr. Richards decided to observe Clive more closely. Kindergarten homework took longer than he had ever imagined and parent participation was involved. An example was timing each boy as he read a long list of sight words. He watched as his wife timed Ari who completed the list quickly. When she called Clive into the kitchen, he procrastinated, claiming he was busy with his Legos. She purposefully did not have the boys do their work together because she didn’t want Clive to watch Ari’s performance, which was better than Clive’s would be. Clive struggled with about half the words, so Mrs. Richards stopped timing; it only made him anxious. He eventually read the list and went back in the other room to join his brother and complete the other assignment. In a notebook, the boys had to draw a picture of whatever they chose and dictate a story about the picture, which a parent would write for them on a separate sheet of paper.
When Clive was working on the second assignment, Mr. Richards noticed him get up several times to look over Ari’s shoulder. He realized Clive wasn’t trying to copy his brother’s work; instead, he wanted to see how far Ari had gotten. It was evident to Clive that his brother had no difficulty completing the exercise. Clive left the room with his head down. His notebook was left open on the dining room table, his work unfinished.
Mr. Richards waited a few minutes, then looked around to find Clive. He saw him working intently at the computer in a small office that everyone used. He stood back, curious about what Clive was doing. He could see from a distance that he had located a painting program and was busy engineering a picture. Mr. Richards didn’t know that Clive was capable of using the computer, let alone navigating a painting application. He realized how much he didn’t know about his son’s abilities. He didn’t want to disturb him, so he left the room and came back twenty minutes later to find Clive still busy with his design. He asked Clive if he could look at his painting, but Clive quickly shut down the computer.
“Clive,” Mr. Richards said, “I didn’t know you were such a computer guy. You’re quite the tech wizard. Can I ask what program you were using?”
“Oh, it’s just Microsoft Paint,” Clive replied and turned his head to the side, away from his father.
“How’d you learn to use it?” Mr. Richards asked with excitement.
“I don’t know. I just did it. It shows you paintbrushes and colors, and you just choose and draw,” said Clive softly.
“That’s amazing, Clive! Could I take a little peek at your painting?”
“I don’t know. You might get mad at me,” answered Clive timidly.
Mr. Richards was surprised. He’d never had a real conversation with either boy about their feelings. Clive was so direct about this that Mr. Richards was taken aback. He’d never gotten mad at either boy. He didn’t even raise his voice, except when he was having a good time. But that’s usually with Ari, Mr. Richards thought with regret. It wasn’t like he never played with Clive, but he just didn’t enjoy Legos as much and found it hard to play with him. He recalled they did like biking together. Why didn’t he do more of that?
Mr. Richards responded the only way he knew how. “Clive, I’m never mad at you. I can’t think of anything you could do to get me mad. A painting won’t make me mad. I promise.”
Clive looked straight at his father. He paused for quite a while, as if what his father said might not be true. He was still worried, but he knew that his father never yelled at him, so he hesitantly opened the computer and, with a click, his drawing popped up.
Mr. Richards was shocked when he looked and saw his name on Clive’s picture. He didn’t know anything about children’s drawings, but clearly this was about him and Clive.
“Clive, I see your name and my name. Yours is so big. Mine is so small. What am I doing? Can you tell me?” Mr. Richards asked.
“You are going away for a long time,” whispered Clive.
“Okay,” Mr. Richards said, worried. “Where am I going?”
“I don’t know,” Clive replied, his brow wrinkled.
“Well, if you don’t know, does anyone know?” Mr. Richards wondered out loud, trying to be as sensitive as he knew how. Actually, Mr. Richards was a very sensitive guy, not only to others but also about himself. He had his own feelings hurt quite easily, and that was why he had felt rebuffed by Clive when he came home from his trip. He assumed Clive wasn’t particularly interested in him; his son’s picture showed him that he was wrong.
His name was written in small letters, while the daddy figure was big. Something about that struck him as important. He’d have to think more about that later because although Clive had paused to consider his father’s question, he was answering it now:
“I think Mommy knows,” Clive answered, slumping in his seat. “She knows why, and she won’t tell me.”
“Why won’t she tell you?” Mr. Richards asked quietly, totally confounded, and even scared. He thought that his little son was shouldering something of momentous importance, and here they were alone, without his wife, who would definitely be more understanding about all this.
“Because I’m bad, and she doesn’t want to hurt my feelings,” Clive replied. “She’s nice even when I’m bad. But my teacher isn’t anymore.”
“Oh. What did your teacher do?” Mr. Richards felt that the conversation was going well, but he didn’t know where it was leading. All he knew was that he felt incredibly sad for his little boy. He was only six and had such big, upsetting ideas.
“She told me I couldn’t paint. I like to paint. I like to paint very much. Daddy, I want to paint in school.” Clive started to cry and climbed onto his father’s lap.
Clive had never climbed into his lap before. This was a mommy thing. Mr. Richards sensed his son was beside himself with grief. He suddenly felt so close to Clive, and even though he knew his son was so distressed, he knew something positive was happening between them. From the classes on Parental Intelligence, he knew that understanding his son’s mind was paramount.
Mr. Richards looked back at the picture for more clues. He was very tempted to call his wife but sensed he shouldn’t. This was between Clive and himself. He plunged in. “Clive, why did the teacher say you couldn’t paint?”
“It’s because I’m bad like I told you.” Clive paused and then blurted out, “I hit Ari. More than once, too. That is bad. Really bad. And you went away. Far away.”
“Clive, do you think I went away because you hit Ari?” Mr. Richards asked in fear.
“No. You went away because I can’t read. You don’t like boys who can’t read. You like smart boys like Ari.”
Mr. Richards found himself rocking Clive very slowly like a baby. He was speechless, having trouble following his son’s gloomy logic. He didn’t know what he had done to cause Clive to think he didn’t like him. But then he thought again. It wasn’t what he had done. It was what he hadn’t done. He had never paid enough attention to Clive, so Clive drew the conclusion that he didn’t like him. Then, he speculated, when Clive had a problem reading—which wasn’t really a problem, except in comparison to Ari—Clive imagined that his father didn’t like him because of the reading, and had therefore gone away. It was an outlandish conclusion, but it followed the logic of a child’s mind.
Then, before he could speak, Clive added another part of the puzzle. “Daddy, it’s okay. Don’t be upset. I don’t like me either because I can’t read.”
Mr. Richards was tearing up. His son, his remarkably sensitive son, was consoling him! He had to speak now and be very clear.
“Clive,” he said slowly. “I went away to make money for all of us. I never go away because I don’t like you. I like you very much. I love you very much.”
Clive stared at his father, who continued, “Lots of kids don’t read when they are in kindergarten. You can take as long as you need to learn. It’s not a race to see who can read first.”
“But the teacher said I couldn’t paint because I can’t read.”
“Clive, she didn’t say that,” Mr. Richards explained. “She didn’t know why you were hitting and thought if you didn’t get to paint, you would stop hitting.”
“What does painting have to do with hitting?” Clive asked, befuddled. “I don’t hit when I paint. That’s impossible!”
Mr. Richards couldn’t restrain himself. He laughed, and Clive smiled, relieved his father found something, anything, funny about all this. Clive’s body relaxed, and he looked at his father with curiosity.
“Clive,” Mr. Richards asked, “did you hit Ari because the teacher would call on him to read?”
“My teacher was always my friend, but then she started calling on Ari a lot. More than on me. I thought she liked him more because he could read so well. That made me mad, so I hit Ari.”
“Gotcha,” his father said. Pointing at the picture, he asked. “Clive, what are you doing here?”
“Will you write the story if I tell it to you?”
“Absolutely. Let’s do it,” Mr. Richards responded, immediately standing up to get some paper and a pen. “Go for it, pal.”
Clive began telling his story. “There was a boy falling off his chair because he couldn’t read the words in his notebook. His brother knew more words than he did. He felt like crying, and he did. Little tears.”
Mr. Richards instantly saw the little tears coming from his son’s eyes in the picture that he had missed before.
Clive continued. “He thought his father was mad at him. He thought he was leaving because he was mad that his twin son didn’t know his words. But he thought wrong. His daddy was going to work. The end.”
Mr. Richards wrote as fast as he could to keep up with Clive’s rapid dictation. He smiled. Clive knew that he wasn’t mad and he was going to work. Terrific! Clive had understood their talk. He was incredibly pleased. But he heard the word twin, which was unexpected, and he became very curious.
“Clive,” Mr. Richards asked, “what does being a ‘twin’ mean?”
Clive’s forehead became furrowed as he stared into space.
“I think other people think it means two brothers are the same when they’re not. Brothers can look alike to people even when they look different to each other. But, anyway, looking alike and being alike aren’t the same thing. I think, because Ari is my twin, my teacher expects me to read like he does. I don’t. Kids think Ari can draw and paint because I do. He can’t. Daddy, did you know all that?”
“Yes, Clive, I know all that,” Mr. Richards replied. “But I don’t expect you and Ari to be the same. You can like some of the same things and not like other things. You can each find some things easier to do than other things. You are brothers in the same family with the same mommy and daddy and—”
“Daddy,” Clive interrupted, “I know we are in the same family with you and Mommy. Duh!”
Mr. Richards laughed. “Sorry. Of course, you know that. So being twins means you are the same age, but everything else isn’t the same all the time.”
“Right,” Clive said. “I’m hungry. Can I finish my homework after we eat dinner?” Clive was ending their discussion. He found out what he needed to know. Relieved, he could attend to being hungry.
“Sure,” Mr. Richards said, grinning. “Would you like me to sit with you when you finish your notebook after dinner?”
“Will you? Okay,” Clive crowed. “And then I have to draw another picture, too. Can we write another story?”
“You got it.”
Clive gave his father a big hug; he had never left his lap. Later in the evening, after the boys had gone to sleep, Mr. Richards told his wife about his talk with Clive, what he had learned about Clive’s incorrect conclusions, and how his assumptions were changed by their discussion. He told her that, in Clive’s picture, his name was written in small letters. He said he had wondered what it meant. With careful thought, he shared with her that he speculated that Clive drew the letters of his name so tiny because he hadn’t been around that much lately. It touched him deeply. He believed that writing his name that way was a result of his frequent absences combined with his emotional distance from Clive when he was at home. She was deeply moved and complimented him on being such a perceptive father. She added that she now understood Clive’s reluctance to talk to him on the phone or when he returned from the trip. From Clive’s perspective, his father was too mad at him to want to talk with him.
Both parents were certain that understanding their son’s mind would guide them with his future struggles. They became much more alert to Clive’s jealousy of Ari. It appeared to be his precocious reading ability that led to his false conclusion that his father liked Ari more, but maybe there was more to it than that. They had a lot to think about. Because the twins got along so well generally, they had missed the importance of hidden jealousies that they would now be more sensitive to.
Read another excerpt from Parental Intelligence:
Read Brain, Child’s Q&A with Laurie Hollman, Ph.D.
Author’s Note: it is with gratitude that I thank Marcelle Soviero, Editor-in-Chief of Brain,Child Magazine for her encouragement of my writing of this book.