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What do I do about my mom, and my 6 year old sister who may possibly have a mental problem? Long, snowflakey details inside.
October 26, 2012 4:44 PM   Subscribe

What do I do about my mom, and my 6 year old sister who may possibly have a mental problem? Long, snowflakey details inside. My first question on Metafilter, please bear with me, I really need your help.

BG info: I'm a 19 yr old boy currently dorming in college over at long island, and my house is in NYC. My parents are Chinese; my mom knows very basic english, and my dad barely knows any at all. My grandparents from my mom's side live with us, and they're the ones who pickup my sister from school. Unfortunately they don't know any English either. My sister is 6 years old, and is attending first grade in a catholic school 5 minutes away from out house. My parents chose this school only because it's really close to our house, and it would be easier for my grandparents to drop and pick her off. We all live in the same house, except for me during school semesters. My mom works weekday, she feeds my sister in the morning, goes to work, and comes home shortly after my sister is picked up from school. My dad on the other hand, works 6 days a week from early morning until late at night.

My sister has been spoiled ever since she was born. My grandparents are always there to take care of her, my dad pampers her whenever he has his days off from work, and my mom used to give her what she wants. I'm the only person who doesn't spoil her, and as a result, she listens to me once in a blue moon, and my family always tries to scares her by saying that i'll discipline her.

My sister is able to communicate with my family in chinese, and she is able to communicate fairly well in English with others as well. Unfortunately, she is also very selfish and yells really loudly whenever she gets what she wants. She doesn't like to obey authority at home or at school. Her teacher complains all the time about her acting "fresh" around other children, and that she harasses people all the time.

I've personally tried various methods of punishment/rewards with her over the summer. It works for a few days at most, and then she goes back to being her usual self again. My family has spanked her sometimes for messing around in the house, and no results. She cries, says she won't do it again, and then forgets that she ever got spanked before. Eventually I gave up trying to discipline her, as I knew I would be leaving for school soon.

Now the real problem... She's always really hyper, and can't seem to focus on any academic work. I've tried teaching her how to write some basic words properly; She would start off writing the words mildly sloppy, and then get progressively worse. Even though I teach her how to write the individual letters, and about spacing the letters, it would never stick in her head.

There was another instance in which I tried to teach her the concept of the "same", using the starting letters of words that she knows. For example, she knows what "good" and "girl" each start with. I tell her that they both start with the same letter, G, then I told her that "golf" starts with the same letter as "good" and "girl", and asked her what letter "gold" starts with. No luck, I told her that it starts with, and then proceeded with another example. Tried this for an hour and she still didn't understand.

My mom has tried teaching my sister basic addition using various methods. My sister is in first grade, and addition is something that she should have learned from kindergarten already. No matter how much my mom tries, my sister is still unable to do addition, especially if we randomly try asking her what "2+2=?", for example.

In school, her teacher tells me that my sister has trouble paying attention and keeping up with work. For example, if the class is trying to a problem in a set, my sister would be try to do another problem on her own, even if she doesn't understand the assignment.

Now for the part that really bothers me: my sister can't do her homework on her own, and as a result, my mom has to help her all the time with it. Unfortunately, my mom isn't able to help her all the time since she has trouble with English. It's not just the homework, that my Mom doesn't understand, it's nearly all of the handouts, informative papers, school news, consent forms, etc that she has no clue about. My sister's afterschool program, (that we have to pay for), helps her with the homework sometimes, but it's not enough.

Since I'm not home on the weekends, my Mom calls me up nearly every weeknight, asking me to translate things for her over the phone. We have this D-Link security camera that my uncle bought for us, and my mom attempts to show me my sister's homework and handouts to me through the camera. The camera isn't meant to transmit small printed words on a piece of paper, and the video feed that I get from it isn't very high quality. I struggle to read the words on the screen from my computer, and I have to constantly tell my mom to zoom in & out, and move the paper around. We bought a Brother FAX-575 fax machine and it worked pretty well - till it stopped working after 2 weeks. Even with the fax machine, my chinese is limited, and I don't know how to translate things all the time.

About 2 weeks ago, her guidance counselor (yes, they have those at an early age for troubled kids), called me up and told me that she, and my sister's teachers were recommending my sister for extra help, AKA special education. So they had my mom fill out a form so that they can schedule a child psychologist to evaluate my sister and determine if she's eligible for some form of special education. There is no scheduled day for that yet, but I'm hoping that it comes soon for our sake.

This whole ordeal is very frustrating for me to deal with every week. I already have trouble keeping up with schoolwork and trying to get myself to focus, and the added stress from my mom and sister is too much. There's no one else around to help them, and I feel as if I have a huge huge obligation to constantly help them all the time. As my sister's workload gets harder, my mom will be able to help her less, and then I'll be the one who has to suffer even more.

There's also the problem of her school being a catholic school. My parents have to pay some decent money just to keep her in school. My family is fairly well off, but having to pay for my college tuition and her catholic school tuition is a burden.

How can I possibly make it easier for myself? I feel like im constantly breaking down and depressed from having to do this all the time. Is there anything that my mom can use to show me my sister's homeworks and handouts more easily? She's computer and technology illiterate, so that rules out a lot of things. Maybe I need to find a better fax machine that won't breakdown in 2 weeks? Even then, it will only help just slightly. Do I need to just wait and see what my sister's psychologist says? But even if she gets extra help, they won't exactly be able to help her do her homework at home either. Is there anything that my family can do to help my sister be more disciplined?

Thank you for taking your time to read this, I'd appreciate any help that you can give me.
posted by thegunner100 to Human Relations (31 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
Where in NYC is your family located? If they're downtown, you might want to see what resources are available to you at University Settlement. They have some programs that I think would be useful in your specific case - possibly the Early Intervention Program - and they have full time staff members that are fully fluent in both Mandarin and Cantonese.
posted by elizardbits at 4:57 PM on October 26, 2012 [6 favorites]


Can you make an appointment on your own to go and talk to the school and tell them everything you said here? Tell your parents, but I would go alone and express your concerns to the school. Explain to them that you are the only fluent English speaker in the house. They need to understand that you have a special burden when it comes to your sister's education. The teachers want to help your sister, and having a clear understanding of everything that is going on, and understanding what your role is in the family, will really help them help your sister. Please don't rely on phone or email for this. Try to have a one-on-one meeting someday after school.

I wouldn't worry that a guidance counselor is involved. I'm a teacher, and they get involved in all grade levels when a student is having trouble with schoolwork or with adjusting to the school environment. Keep in mind that your sister is six-years-old and has been in school for only two months! She is likely still adjusting to being in grade school. Kids can change a lot in a short amount of time, and it is quite likely that you and your teachers can make a lot of of progress with your sister over the next couple of months.

I would also discuss the plan for "special education" with the school. This could mean a lot of things, and it might not mean "special education" in the sense of a different classroom or different course. At our school, kids need to be tested in order for the school to receive additional money from the government. This money can allow for a lot resources, like having an educational assistant in the classroom to help your sister with reading and writing. An extra educator in the classroom can go a long way to helping student achievement.

But my strongest piece of advice is to go to the school to discuss your sisters situation. If the older brother of one of my students was in your situation, I would definitely want to know about it. I assure you that you will feel better about this situation afterwards.
posted by Nightman at 5:01 PM on October 26, 2012 [10 favorites]


If she has a psychological issue or a learning disability, she will be treated and that will help her "discipline" issues. I am not completely sure how to help with the handouts, but I should mention that NYC public schools are free and in my experience they are very good about sending things in multiple languages so all of the parents can understand them.
posted by the young rope-rider at 5:01 PM on October 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


An added cost but perhaps a hired tutor at the after school program?

All elementary schools usually have a guidance counselor. It doesn't mean your sister is troubled or spoiled. Better spoiled and loved and doted on. Why not? Every kid should be special to their parents and grandparents. Remember you are her brother and it's not your role to discipline necessarily. I would encourage her, ask her how things are going, what her favorite things about school, what she needs help with, etc.

Is your sister's school fully aware of the language barrier at home? I would call the guidance counselor and fill her in completely. Ask the guidance counselor if there are any teachers who do afterschool tutoring for a fee. Her teachers should know that mom and dad may not be able to read the handouts and worksheets. It should be known that homework should be completed at afterschool program if possible. If that is not possible perhaps you can come to an agreement that all homework be issued on a Monday and due on a Friday. This way you can translate everything on one day instead of every day.

Keep encouraging your sister. Maybe special ed is a good idea for now. She might need a little work to catch up to her peers. You might have her evaluated for learning disabilities. She could very well not have a learning disability. She may have a little trouble because Chinese is the primary language spoken at home and she is getting used to doing schoolwork in English.
posted by Fairchild at 5:04 PM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, I realize that the convenience of a nearby school is very important with little to no ESL in the household, but it is possible that your sister will benefit more from programs offered in local public schools than she will in an expensive private school.
posted by elizardbits at 5:05 PM on October 26, 2012 [9 favorites]


A very important point that you don't mention is her diet. A lot of kids eat diets waaay too high in sugar, and this can cause the symptoms of a mental health issue when it's a diet issue. If she's eating sugar, get it eliminated from her diet and see how that affects her ability to pay attention. (And I've seen this first hand in 2 cases, where a drastic personality change came after getting a kid off a super sugary diet.)
posted by DoubleLune at 5:11 PM on October 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


Could your family get her a tutor that speaks your family's language as well? That could take care of both the learning problem and translating problem. (and free up your own time as well.)
posted by Vaike at 5:17 PM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Is there a counseling service at your school? And/or an organization or group of Asian students or more specifically, children of immigrants? It sounds like it would be helpful for you to be able to talk out some of this stress and these issues with either a counselor or other students who may be coming from similar family backgrounds.

I realize that you clearly love your sister and care a lot for her. At the same time, it is not your responsibility to raise your six year-old sister. She has parents (who raised you), teachers, a guidance counselor, an after school program, and many other resources. You'll all get through this. Be the best brother you can, but you need to focus on yourself too, your own education and college life.
posted by zachlipton at 5:23 PM on October 26, 2012 [10 favorites]


If you aren't already, consider dropping into your student health counseling services. This is exactly what they are for. The only way you're going to be able to help your family navigate this is to use whatever support systems you your college offers. A counselor can offer perspective and help you deal with the responsibility, guilt and frustration you feel, as well as be in your corner as you manage school. They can help with boundaries, offer coping strategies and advice just in case it starts affecting your school work. This is a common issue on campuses, and help is available. Reach out.
posted by anitanita at 5:28 PM on October 26, 2012 [9 favorites]


Try to split the problem. Is she not paying attention because she is spoiled and she expects same treatment at school too (and she doesn't get it) or she has disorder like ADHD? Do you see any obvious changes/differences in her behavior? Do you think she is unable to achieve developmental goals? (this 2+2= thing) If so, whatever your concerns are, write them down. Talk to her school teacher/tutor about their concerns, write them down too. Visit the school district special education director (or any other person with authority) Talk to them about your concerns and PRESS THEM for her evaluation. This is pretty thorough evaluation and depending on what comes out of, the school district will assign services. Even if nothing comes out of it, you will be relieved that she doesn't have any developmental or mental disability. All your parents need is guidance on developing her properly.

I am glad that you are thinking of your sister so deeply. Be strong, all she has is you (because your parents don't speak English well and she may be able to communicate better in English.)

P.S. - You really need to be stubborn on getting evaluations done.
posted by zaxour at 5:31 PM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Good advice above about the school and counselling. I am wondering if perhaps your sister is feeling stressed and overwhelmed. The one person in her life who can bridge both worlds is you and you are away. This is a huge transition, not to mention that she's new to school, to a structured environment and to navigating this system. Are you Catholic? The religious element may also be a shock to her. Is she connecting with other kids? She may feel very isolated and unsure of herself. Her harassment of other kids may be a genuine attempt to connect with others. If, other than kindergarten, she has spent most of her time with adults (grandparents, parents, you), she may not know how to gain the interest and attention of other kids. Something as simple as packing a few toys to share with other kids after school and then staying and playing for a few minutes could have a few effect. Putting together some playdates with other kids could help.

I wonder if your family could either hire a sitter or perhaps find a volunteer who could help the grandparents out twice a week. If the sitter/volunteer spoke both English and Chinese, they could help in introducing your sister to other kids and parents, talking to the teacher, and even going to school meetings. Your local settlement society might also have some advocates or translators. But, honestly, even a 7th grade student who could help introduce your sister to other kids, invite other 6yo to a playdate, or otherwise faciliate communication and show your sister around the school might have a huge influence.

Is your sister getting enough sleep? If she doesn't see your parents till a bit later, maybe they keep her up to spend time with her. Your sister is still little and may need to go to bed by 7pm. My kids are of a similar age and must be in bed by 7:30 or they are just exhausted and their behaviour falls apart.

Nutrition and opportunities for exercise are important too. Does she get a chance to play outside in the fresh air? So much of first grade involves sitting at a desk and it can be a big transition.

Also, check that your sister is not being bullied or excluded. Some kids lash out and are caught because their tormentors are discreet.

Finally, my mom, who was a teacher, always told me that studies showed many kids are not ready for math and reading until they are about 6.5 years old. This has to do with all the developmental, emotional and social challenges they face - it has nothing to do with intelligence. Your sister just might need a little more time.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 5:38 PM on October 26, 2012 [9 favorites]


FYI, if she is entitled to special ed services, those are provided by the public school district through her private school. That is, she can continue to attend her private school and receive the necessary services free of charge via the public school system. Most testing, etc., will be done through the public school system as well.

In some cases it will be better for her to be in the public system where they have more resources for dealing with students with unique needs (for example, my public school system has an all-deaf classroom, which none of the local private schools is large enough to support), but in many cases supportive services can be quite well-provided through the private school system.

You should definitely see what the psychologist says, and you should definitely talk to him or her about the family situation surrounding your sister's school situation.

Does your sister's school know your parents are very limited English? Are there other Chinese-speaking students in the school? I would be very surprised if NYC Catholic schools don't have Chinese-language support available in at least minimal form. Your parents may not know what supportive services are available or what they're entitled to in the U.S.; you should speak with the guidance counselor if you can and try to find out, both in terms of special ed services and in terms of language services. (And having guidance counselors for ALL students is the gold standard these days -- it's not a sign your sister is troubled, it's a sign the school is working hard to follow best practices!) You're not alone, though; when I was elementary and high school, there had recently been a large influx of Asian (mostly Korean) immigrants to our community and the schools weren't equipped to handle it. I had SOOOOO many friends who had to serve as their parents' translators for younger siblings or sometimes even their own disciplinary meetings with the principal. You are definitely not alone.

Also, "special ed" is used as a catch-all term for students requiring ANY supportive services; it does not necessarily connote mental retardation or other mental problems. It can be things as simple as minor dyslexia or deafness, or as complicated as students who are on permanent ventilators, in wheelchairs, and will never progress beyond a mental age of six months. Around 25% of students are "special ed" and entitled to services, and lots of them are quite gifted; they just need help in one particular area. So try not to think of it as a pejorative term, or as necessarily meaning your sister won't achieve academically -- and try to help your parents understand that!

(Feel free to memail me if I can answer any general questions about special ed services.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:16 PM on October 26, 2012 [10 favorites]


Getting your sister a tutor sounds like a good idea. A bilingual Chinese-American female college student who is studying to be an elementary school teacher would be a great candidate for this. You could try finding such a person through the education department at a college near your family home, through your old high school, or maybe through your parents' community connections, church, temple, social club.

I agree that your sister may be stressed, overwhelmed, and perhaps overtired. Try to do fun things alone with her when you can. Take her to parks, museums, children's events. Don't worry too much about her falling behind in school, she will be able to catch up when the situation improves, and as she matures.

I had a Chinese friend in grad school who explained a bit about the Chinese educational system, I remember her telling me that children had to absolutely excel from a very young age if they wanted to go to college. Your parents may think it's the same here, but it isn't nearly as harsh.
posted by mareli at 6:24 PM on October 26, 2012


6 is very young. My son is nearly 7 and is still not a fluent reader though he's making progress. He knows some math but that is easier for him, and he does often freeze up when pressured to perform even when he knows the answer. I think you need to stop pressuring your sister and let the school help her. Try to step back from your pseudo parent role and be her brother..help but don't parent her. If she truly has a disability she needs evaluation, not spanking. Hitting her won't help.

Even a small amount of outside help could make all the difference at her age. Don't give up on her.
posted by emjaybee at 6:30 PM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thanks everyone for the responses! I can't believe that there are so many responses in such a short time.

"Where in NYC is your family located?"
We live in the bronx actually. I forgot to add that my sister goes to "chinese school" at chinatown on sundays to learn Chinese. I feel that it's quite unnecessary at this young age, and perhaps it's hindering her overall education.

"Can you make an appointment on your own to go and talk to the school and tell them everything you said here?"
I've spoken to her teacher a few weeks ago after class, and she is aware that my sister is having trouble, and that my family doesn't speak English. My mom says that the school is closed on the weekends, but I will try to give them a call tomorrow and see what I can do about making an appointment with either my sister's teacher or her guidance counselor.

"If that is not possible perhaps you can come to an agreement that all homework be issued on a Monday and due on a Friday. This way you can translate everything on one day instead of every day."
Interesting idea, that would actually make my life a bit easier if i can just do it all in one go.

"but I should mention that NYC public schools are free and in my experience they are very good about sending things in multiple languages so all of the parents can understand them."
Perhaps... the other schools are a far walk for my grandparents.

"An added cost but perhaps a hired tutor at the after school program?"
I've told my mom to consider getting her a tutor, but she doesn't want to have to pay more money than she already is for private school and afterschool. My mom also has the mentality that if my sister doesnt listen to anyone at home or at school, then she's not going to listen to a tutor. There's also the problem of having to get someone who's able to speak Chinese in my neighborhood as well.

"it is possible that your sister will benefit more from programs offered in local public schools than she will in an expensive private school."
Perhaps, but again, the problem with walking distance.

"A very important point that you don't mention is her diet."
That's a very interesting thought. There are sweets and snacks at home, but I don't know how often they're given to my sister. I know that sometimes when my grandparents pick her up from school, she would whine and throw a fit until my grandparents either buy her ice cream from a truck or something from a nearby store. I'll look into this more.

"Is there a counseling service at your school?"
Yes there is! The building for it is actually very close to where my dorm is. I've actually considered going there earlier this week to talk about my sister's situation among the other things i've had to deal with lately. I'm very close with my roommate, and we talk about personal things all the time. I'm very glad that he's always there to help me out, but perhaps some professional help would be beneficial too.

"I realize that you clearly love your sister and care a lot for her. At the same time, it is not your responsibility to raise your six year-old sister. She has parents (who raised you), teachers, a guidance counselor, an after school program, and many other resources. You'll all get through this. Be the best brother you can, but you need to focus on yourself too, your own education and college life."

"I am glad that you are thinking of your sister so deeply. Be strong, all she has is you"

Thanks! ;_;

"Do you see any obvious changes/differences in her behavior?"
No, she's been this way ever since she has started school. There was this one strange incident during the summer actually. My sister somehow got a fairly high fever around 105 degrees and was really sick for about 2 weeks or so. After she recovered from it, she was really weak and not hyper at all. She would be really introverted whenever she went outside whereas normally she would be very outgoing and all over the place. After a week or two of her strange behavior, she went back to normal.

"Are you Catholic? The religious element may also be a shock to her. Is she connecting with other kids? She may feel very isolated and unsure of herself. Her harassment of other kids may be a genuine attempt to connect with others."
No our family is not religious at all. Yes she does seem to be able to connect with the other kids, but I'm not sure on what level. She's very outgoing, and that may be off-putting to others.

"Is your sister getting enough sleep?"

Maybe? I don't know how much sleep is enough for a 6 year old. On schooldays, my sister goes to sleep around 9pm and wakes up around 7am the latest. I should add that my sister used to be very clingy to my mom, a little bit less now but still.

"Does she get a chance to play outside in the fresh air? "
Yes, her class occasionally gets to go out to the playground.

"Finally, my mom, who was a teacher, always told me that studies showed many kids are not ready for math and reading until they are about 6.5 years old. This has to do with all the developmental, emotional and social challenges they face - it has nothing to do with intelligence. Your sister just might need a little more time."
Perhaps this may be true.

@Eyebrows McGe - thanks for the info on special education. I'm not very familiar with the system, and any information helps.

"I had a Chinese friend in grad school who explained a bit about the Chinese educational system, I remember her telling me that children had to absolutely excel from a very young age if they wanted to go to college. Your parents may think it's the same here, but it isn't nearly as harsh."
My parents are actually not very strict about education with me or my sister. My sister gets a lot of free time, usually spent watching tv or dancing around in the living room.

"I think you need to stop pressuring your sister and let the school help her. Try to step back from your pseudo parent role and be her brother"
I haven't been pressuring her ever since school started for me. I wish i could step back and just be her brother, but my mom thinks that i absolutely have to help her with her education.
posted by thegunner100 at 6:57 PM on October 26, 2012


Get a scanner (epson v37 is one) that can scan to cloud. Install Team Viewer or Logmein to their computer. This way you can control their computer, and your mother can just place the paper on the scanner, press a button and a minute later you get it in your dropbox or evernote.
And http://www.readingtlc.com/ may be good for her.
posted by anon4now at 7:12 PM on October 26, 2012


"Finally, my mom, who was a teacher, always told me that studies showed many kids are not ready for math and reading until they are about 6.5 years old."

This is definitely true -- studies show there's no difference in academic achievement AT AGE TEN between kids who start reading at age 2 and kids who start reading at age 7. Similar things are true for math, though I don't recall the age range. I'd certainly talk to the teacher/counselor/psychologist about anything you're concerned about, including what you perceive to be slow academic progress, but if the expert says "Totally normal," you can relax that it is, indeed, totally normal at this age, and only indicative of normal variations in development, not indicative of future academic success.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:13 PM on October 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


An online tutor may be economical http://www.homework-help-secrets.com/online-tutoring.html
posted by anon4now at 7:23 PM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'd probably say try an earlier bed time too. Check out the local libraries as well - some have homework help (and often in other languages).
posted by geek anachronism at 7:24 PM on October 26, 2012


"Get a scanner (epson v37 is one) that can scan to cloud."
That's very interesting, I'll have to look into that a little more.
posted by thegunner100 at 7:27 PM on October 26, 2012


I'm not Catholic, but in my exposure to educational research and now my own experience sending my kid to Catholic school has taught me that many Catholic schools are very good environments where lots of people care.

Take all the services you can get - special education, etc.
posted by k8t at 8:27 PM on October 26, 2012


Can you communicate with the teachers through email? If the teachers can email you copies of the homework that might be easier than having your mom try to scan it in.
posted by selfmedicating at 9:48 PM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ask her school administrators to convene a Committee on Special Education (CSE meeting). Tell them you believe she is eligible for extra help. Not sure if the Catholic school has the resources to administer some of what is decided, but special ed classes are paid for by the public schools. At the CSE meeting you will develop an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) This will lay out exactly what is to happen at school for your sister and to get her up to grade level.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:52 PM on October 26, 2012


Another thing--it seems like the biggest value add about this school is that it is not a far walk for your grandparents. If you explore other/public schools, you could consider the cost of a babysitter to walk her to and from a further but better suited school, as way less expensive than catholic school.

As for you, try to set aside one night a week that is just "you" time. Not for your OR your sister's homework. Hang out with other people in your dorm, go see a movie or a concert, hang out. You don't want to burn out. Take care of yourself too!
posted by manicure12 at 9:53 PM on October 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


The important advice comes here:

Encourage your parents to drop the after school program and hire a nanny or babysitter who speaks both English and Chinese to take your sister to play dates, the park, and cultural institutions. This person can take over your translating duties. Look for someone with a background in child development for this position. This is sure to help.

---


Schools get money for having "special needs" students, so be wary of introducing and pharmaceuticals at this age, OK? Medication isn't always the answer, even it makes your sister less hyper or whatever.

I only mention this because medicating children is really popular at the moment, and diagnosing them with ADHD or similar is just the first step down that road.

YES you want to get your sister help so that she enjoys school. NO, she's likely not "special needs," she just sounds like a pretty typical 6 year old with high-energy + language and culture clash issues.

In truth, there doesn't sound like there is anything wrong with her at this stage except for the language and culture issues. Really.

It's troubling that you would term her as having a "mental problem" and I think you should put this out of your mind for now. Please.

----

Can I be frank? It sounds like your sister's life kinda sucks.

You are the only person who speaks both English and Chinese in her household, and you are now away at school. Aside from her home, she lives in an English speaking country. EVERYTHING is in English - TV, school, her after school program - everything. Strangely to her, I am sure, her parents and grandparents don't speak a word of English. I bet with you gone at school, everyone relies on her to translate what she can for them. How frustrating! She's freakin' 6 years old!!!

Her parents, who she is naturally attached to, work most days. Her grandparents, who according to you can only navigate reliably within a few blocks of the family home, are her primary caregivers. Now, I'm not knocking your grandparents, but I bet they are less active and agile than your sister, so to a 6 year old, this means they are likely less fun for her to play with. Children needs physical AND intellectual stimulation. It sounds like your sister's life is pretty boring. You don't mention play dates or the park - situations where your sister could be playing, expending energy, and most importantly, making friends her own age.

----

I know you mean well and you love your sister. It sounds very strongly that you are blaming a 6 year old for the shortcomings of her parents and grandparents.

At 6 years old, plenty of children would have trouble learning and navigating in society under the circumstances you have described for us.

You need to bring the hammer down on your mom and dad. Full stop. They need to step up.

Your sister needs play time with other children and after school activities like parks, museum visits, and other fun stuff so she learns to socialize outside of a structured environment like school. She needs more than speaking Chinese at home and English speaking programs on the TV. I don't know what her after school program is like, but it doesn't sound like it's providing enough stimulation for her needs. Ditto your grandparents at this stage.

I agree with others that she'll "get" math and the alphabet when she's ready. Perhaps these skills will come more easily for her when the stress of being the sole bi-lingual member of her household is mitigated?



BTW, you could not be more wrong about Chinese school on Sundays. That's the one thing that is going right for your sister. She's very lucky to become fully bi-lingual!

It's just that she clearly needs more than her current routine is giving her.

She's between two worlds, her young English life, and an older Chinese one. She's not fulfilled because of this.

Encourage your parents to drop the after school program and hire a nanny or babysitter who speaks both English and Chinese to take your sister to play dates, the park, and cultural institutions. This person can take over your translating duties. Look for someone with a background in child development for this position. This is sure to help.
posted by jbenben at 12:23 AM on October 27, 2012 [17 favorites]


Hi! I hope you are still reading. I want to recommend a couple of organizations that can help you and your family to help your sister in school and with life skills.

There are two federally-funded organizations in New York City that have a mandate from the federal government to provide assistance to parents of students with disabilities, which might include your sister. They are Advocates for Children and Sinergia. Based only on a cursory look at their website, I would try Advocates for Children first. Specifically I would call their Helpline, which operates Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. The AfC website also has an option to read the site in Chinese, and the helpline page says that they have foreign-language speaking education advocates. They also can attend meetings with the school with your parents to help them understand what is happening, both because of the language barrier and because of any special terms the school may use.

It's great that your sister's school wants to have her evaluated for special education. One thing that would very much concretely help your sister and your parents would be for you to call the school and get the scoop on WHO is going to evaluate your sister, WHAT they are going to evaluate her for, and WHEN they are going to evaluate her. The ideal answers to those questions would be a person who is associated with or employed by the public school and someone who speaks both Chinese and English and will evaluate your sister in BOTH languages; an evaluation that covers "all areas of suspected disability"; and sooner, rather than later.

Another thing that would be very helpful for you to provide to the school is a picture of your sister at home. Things that stick out to me in your question and follow-ups include:
-she's always very hyper
-she struggles to write neatly
-likes to dance around; has lots of energy
-has trouble remembering rules

Other things to think about: Is she able to play by herself without an adult helping or interacting with her? (ie, does she ever look at books, or play with dolls and make up stories, or do any kind of "independent play"?) Does she eat different kinds of foods, or is she a picky eater? Does she communicate with words when she wants something, or does she have tantrums? Does she like her clothing any particular way- very loose or very tight?

I am not an expert, but I agree with other posters that we can't know if your sister does or does not have a disability or learning difference that requires intervention. She likes to get her way and often misbehaves- may be an impulse-control problem, may be that she's an adorable six-year-old surrounded by four doting adults. She's struggling with arithmetic- might be a learning difference, might be that she lost a lot of academic skills over the long summer break (this is very common and happens to most children). She has trouble with phonics- could be a learning difference, could be an effect of growing up monolingual Chinese-speaking and now learning her second language. She has trouble sitting still, paying attention, is often "fresh"- could be problems with attention or a behavioral problem, could be that she's a young 6 (when's her birthday?) and she isn't really ready for first grade, which is a lot more quiet and academic and frankly boring than kinder.

One thing that you could think about is that, even if your sister DOESN'T have a disability, the interventions that help students with disabilities who struggle with things that your sister struggles with might help your sister. For instance, you say your sister has a lot of energy, is always hyper, likes to dance around. Sometimes those things are symptoms of an attention problem. One thing students with attention problems sometimes like to do is stand up while they're learning something and tap their feet or move their hands. Does your mom have your sister sit at a table to do her homework? Try having her stand. There are lots of interventions like this that can help a student who is a little "different." I would ask Advocates for Children about where you might find more tips like that; they might have books you could read, articles with lists, or the names of learning professionals you or your family could speak with.

Other posters are right that if your sister is found to have a disability, her public school district is responsible for providing appropriate services to her. Some of those services might be:
-resource room help (ie, sometimes your sister will go to another, smaller classroom and work one-on-one or in a small group on academic skills)
-before or after school tutoring one-on-one.
-work with a therapist on things like fine motor skills (her handwriting) or on social skills (things like asking for what she wants, playing by herself or with other kids, and being able to better tolerate sitting quietly and paying attention)

Ways that the public school would provide this at your sister's current school would be to send a public school teacher to her school. It might be the case that there is a teacher already at the school who only works there and seems to be employed by the Catholic school but who is actually paid by the public school district.

But even if she gets extra help, they won't exactly be able to help her do her homework at home either. Is there anything that my family can do to help my sister be more disciplined?

This actually IS a service that your sister could receive, although she would mostly likely do her homework before or after school, either staying late or arriving early at the school building, with a tutor. I actually think that this would be the best accommodation your sister could receive, because she would get more appropriate academic help, and it would take a lot of pressure off of your mom and ESPECIALLY off of you. If your sister is not found to have a learning difference or other disability, I think your family should ABSOLUTELY secure her the services of a bilingual tutor, or ask her school what they can provide.

TL;DR?
-Advocates for Children provides FREE services to children and families in New York City who have or may have a learning difference or disability. Their Helpline is 1 (866) 427-6033.
-Your sister might or might not have a learning difference or disability; if she does, AfC can help your family understand what services she is entitled to. If she doesn't, AfC might be able to provide you with tips and tricks for helping a kid who seems a little "different."
-A bilingual tutor might be a big help for your sister.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 12:46 AM on October 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Schools get money for having "special needs" students, so be wary of introducing and pharmaceuticals at this age, OK? Medication isn't always the answer, even it makes your sister less hyper or whatever.

Schools get money for having special needs students so they can provide things like ESL materials, classroom aides, academic support, and ongoing counseling services that keep kids from falling further and further behind. A public school absolutely cannot require, recommend, or prescribe medication; only a medical doctor can do that. (Or at least they can't in California. I would be very, very surprised if it were different in New York.) And even if a doctor suggests medication, your parents do not have to medicate your sister if they feel that it's not the best thing for her.

Also, in California at least, districts are required to provide free transportation to and from school. New York may have a similar setup if it turns out that a different school would be a better placement for your sister.

If your sister qualifies for special education services, it doesn't mean that there's something wrong with her, it just means that she needs help and that the school now has to provide it. An assessment can help pinpoint what help she needs and how it can best be provided.

Please do take care of yourself. This is a lot for a college student to take on and checking out the counseling center at your campus would be a start, at least.
posted by corey flood at 6:45 AM on October 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think everyone else has given really good advice on how to address your sister's educational issues so I'm not going to go into that.

However, I don't think it's your job to discipline your sister. My youngest sibling is also extremely spoiled. My parents do the same - they threaten him with me because I don't put up with his crap. It doesn't work though, because once I'm gone, he starts acting out again or when I'm trying to get him to behave, my parents don't do the same so he's subject to two confusing set of rules.

You need to have a frank talk with your parents about how to bring up your sister. It's hard to discipline a child, especially if they're the youngest, but I've seen way too many younger siblings that grow up into deadbeat adults because their parents didn't hold them to the same expectations as their older siblings.
posted by cyml at 1:35 PM on October 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Kids are remarkably adaptable to different languages; I know of several kids that age who switch effortlessly between English and something else depending on who they're talking to. Don't sweat this one.

I think the issue here is that you are being placed into a position of authority, and as a disciplinarian, but you don't have any *actual* control over the situation. I am of Asian extraction, I have a much younger sibling who was also being spoiled but I was also being set up as the "punisher." My mum would spoil him rotten, cut up his food for him til he was SIXTEEN, let him spend several hours a day on Warcraft, but then stress out over his inability to do homework etc etc and I would be the one to go to the parent teacher meetings, harass him over school work etc etc. But my words meant nothing, my effort meant nothing, because the fundamental issue was what my mum was doing stuff that was undermining what she wanted me to do, and any talks with her about changing her behaviour fell on deaf ears. Plus I was dealing with university, getting a job, becoming an adult myself etc. I'm getting stressed thinking about it now.

[as an aside, my brother is actually fine, he's a cool 22 year old dude now and has his own thing going]

As an Asian person, if I can generalise here for a moment - sometimes a parent wants to be a Tiger-parent, but doesn't know how or doesn't have the time to employ the kind of discipline involved. But they'll apply the academic pressure in the form of offloading the responsibility to someone else, ie expensive private school, or offloading the disciplining to the older sibling. As the older sibling, the offloading often comes in the form of setting you up as a punisher, someone to be afraid of, and INCESSANTLY NAGGING at you to "talk some sense into your sister" etc etc. It creates extreme anxiety in you, because how the heck are you meant to know how to rear a kid when you're just out of high school yourself? And when your efforts are being undermined anyway, that's a recipe for pain.

Anyway, some kids are just spoiled at home, but they learn how to adapt to different environments quickly. Your sister is going to learn that pulling certain kinds of crap at school isn't going to fly. She might be a bit of a twerp at home, but you aren't going to be able to do anything about it, particularly if you aren't at home that much. But in those times you are there, you can be an example to her. You don't have to engage or validate her twerpishness, she'll pick up what your boundaries are. You don't have to be responsible for your parents either, they'll probably guilt-trip you over that, but looking back - boy I wish someone had mentored me in the art of maintaining boundaries! What I'm saying here is: SAVE YOURSELF.

You can state your opposition to their methods of child-rearing but know they probably won't do anything about it. And be okay with that. You can be an example of good behaviour to your sister. You can not buy into her bad behaviour. You can engage with her on your terms, be kind, but don't put up with twerpishness. Set yourself up as a person who she can come to for advice - for me, it was important that I could talk to my brother on the level about drugs and alcohol and other teen crap when he got to that age, treated him as a person who could make his own decisions, because we both knew any punishment I dished out would never be enforced. So I didn't bother with that losing battle.

She'll figure it out, once she's in school for a bit, how different life is outside of the family home, and she'll appreciate the information you can give her. Academically, there's really only so much you can do, because you can't be standing over her 24 hours a day, so be ready to dish out advice, but be okay with it if she doesn't take it. My bro didn't take any advice from me about school really, I wish he had, but you know some kids don't. But he's fine now. Sometimes I berate myself that I could have done better showing him the way but I imagine heaps of parents think that about their kids, you just have to make the information available to them, set an example, and give them agency in sorting that stuff out for themselves.

As another aside, I myself had an older sibling who was set up to dish out discipline and punishment to me. It was shitty and harsh and she was drunk with power and she wasn't my mother!!! She was mean. I just got rebellious. It doesn't work.

One more aside, my mother is actually really, really great. She was just a single parent who had to work a lot, it was hard for her.

Your sister will be ok. If she's a bright kid, she'll figure it out. Keep checking in with her school as the language thing is a big deal, you're doing a really cool thing here, above and beyond what you should have to do but quite a common thing for families where English is the second language.
posted by mooza at 4:37 PM on October 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


Quick update:

My mom took my sister to see an audiologist last week, and the doc said that my sister might have some sort of hearing problem. So today, they went to see the audiologist and the doc confirmed the problem again. I'm not exactly sure what the problem is, because my mom tried to explain to me what the doc said, an i didn't really understand it fully. From what i understand, my sister wasn't able to hear some sounds unless the volume was turned up, compared to kids her age. The audiologist was concerned that my sister might have academic problems because of this, and would send a note to her pediatrician to let him/her know that he or she should wrote a note to let the school know, and to possibly move her closer to the front of the classroom. The audiologist has scheduled another checkup for next week to see if my sister can get some sort of a hearing aid to be used in school (atleast that's what i think my mom said).

This could be an explanation to my sister's inability to pay attention, focus, or follow rules. Sometimes my family has to call out to her a few times to get her attention.

Again, thank you all for your helpful responses and words of encouragement. I'd have never thought that an online community could be so nice and compassionate. Please keep it going, im gonna make a listen of things to discuss with my mom when i find the time for it.
posted by thegunner100 at 7:36 PM on October 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


A hearing impairment could explain a lot. Hearing impairments are often mistaken for learning disabilities in children. I would bring that to the attention of her guidance counselor.

Hire a bilingual tutor. Group counseling seems like it could benefit you as well if you can afford it.
posted by skwint at 7:35 AM on November 6, 2012


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