Sibling Dynamics

Last week S-Boogie was trying to write something and asked me to spell a word. Before I could answer, Little Dude stepped in and spelled it for her. Perfectly. Today in church he finished coloring his picture, turned it over and drew a church, then wrote "This is hevinly fathers cerch" on it, without asking me how to spell the words. He is four-and-a-half, she's seven, and he has nearly caught up with her in his spelling and reading abilities. A few months ago Little Dude figured out how letters work and took off running. He can read and spell really well. S-Boogie is actually on grade level as far as reading goes and recently brought home a report card that had perfect grades in all her academic subjects (her only low grade was in 'school behavior', which encompasses staying on task and following directions).

This new dynamic has honestly had me a little worried. I have a brother who is slightly less than two years older than me. I started reading when I was three and would sometimes help him with his kindergarten homework. School has always been easy for me, and even though my brother is smart, it wasn't as easy for him. All of my life I looked up to my brother because he seemed so much cooler than I was. He was in band, he did swim team, he had cool friends. I was saddened a few years ago to find out that he had often resented me for being the smart one who did well in school. I worry about that happening with my children, and I admit that I've been trying to not make a big deal about Little Dude's reading abilities for S-Boogie's sake. The other day she brought home a flyer outlining the requirements for district testing for gifted programs in third grade. As I read through it I realized that she really didn't fit the criteria and so I threw it in the recycling bin, but not without a small pain that she isn't more like me. I also realized that Little Dude will likely fit those criteria in a few years and we'll have to deal with some of the issues that come from having kids in two different schools and different programs. For now, however, I have put those concerns on the back burner. He's still in preschool and we have a few years to see how school agrees with him.

Perfect grades and stellar school performance are not the only measure of a child's worth. And that, for me, is what I'm realizing is the important thing for S-Boogie to know and understand. She knows it right now and I hope she always does. A few weeks ago on NPR I was listening to a program about sibling dynamics and the fact that small differences between siblings often end up being exaggerated, both by parents and the kids themselves. So while both kids might be extroverted, the one that is more obviously that way will become more so and the other one will become more introverted in compensation. I hope that doesn't happen with school in our family; I want all three of my kids to like school and to feel like we approve of their efforts. S-Boogie is smart but just not in the same ways that Little Dude is. Plus she just doesn't have his powers of concentration and probably never will. He has weaknesses that she doesn't have either. Right now she loves school and has many friends there, plus if you ask her she will tell you that she is the smartest student in the class. The other day we were driving by the high school and the kids started asking me about what it's like there (this is a frequent topic since we live right by the school). S-Boogie decided that she wants to be on the soccer team, take cooking classes, and take some math classes because she loves math and is the best at it. I hope she still has that attitude when she actually gets to high school some day.


Th. said…

I hope so too. I'm worried by little things O's picking up at school and hope that his current self-image wins the day.
Gina said…
I so relate. My oldest is very smart, and tested for gifted and talented, and in a lot of ways long term I see him doing great things because he is very creative and thinks outside the box ALL the time. But that also means he rarely thinks inside the box, and therefore he does fine but not especially well at school. He reads on grade level, does well at math, etc. Totally not motivated by grades, etc.

My second is like wildfire with academic stuff. He's two years behind our oldest in school but is at about the same reading and writing level, etc. I really worry how this will affect my oldests' self image. I really don't want him hating school in a few years, which I can totally see happening, and I worry that if he feels threatened in that realm by his younger brother he might sort of give up on it. Also, the younger brother is extremely competitive which isn't going to help things...

Anyway, I definitely relate!
SenecaSis said…
A few years ago, a parent, at one of their children's missionary farewells, told about how they had always emphasized to their 5 kids that they WERE different. And because of this characteristic, not only encouraged each child to develop their individual talents and personalities, but would adjust teaching moments and discipline accordingly so that that particular child would reap the most benefit from that moment.

My reaction to this approach of encouraging and addressing each child's individual talents and needs was, "How wise!". As a child (and even often as an adult) I felt as if I was being compared in behavior and spirituality to my siblings--as 'proof' that I wasn't 'measuring' up. At the same time (for myriad reasons), although a couple of my more obvious talents were recognized, personal, emotional and intellectual traits were not (at least not openly). From my point of view, these behavioral comparisons only encouraged me to add to the 'proof' that I was indeed unable to be as 'good' as the others. I also believe a lack of recognition and encouragement of potential for emotional and intellectual development has stunting and frustrating.

I realize that keeping discipline and justice 'fair' among siblings isn't an easy task. I also understand that not all parents are trained in child psychology--sadly, not even a basic course is a pre-requisite to becoming a parent. I also believe that both nature AND nurture are factors of human development--so even if I'd been given the educational opportunities and the emotional support that I feel I lacked, it's likely I still might have ended up a screwed up adult.

Anyway, I guess part of my point is that I believe that parents have an awesome responsibility. And by 'awesome' I don't necessarily mean fun and thrilling. It's an overwhelming responsibility, or stewardship, to care for, teach, and help their children to develop their full potentials. Fortunately, both you and Mr. Fob are both very educated, wise, and sensitive; and I'm sure that together you will be able to encourage, guide, and facilitate S-Boogie, Little Dude, and P-Bibby to reaching reaching their full individual and unique potentials.

p.s. No pressure! :)
SenecaSis said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
FoxyJ said…
I think you raise a good point. Kids are smart and can usually tell when they're not so good at something, especially when they have a sibling that is. I think it does a disservice to them to ignore that difference and either give false praise or to just pretend it doesn't exist. They just learn not to trust that adults really care about them. I always tell my kids that 'fair' doesn't mean 'equal' or that everyone gets the same thing; 'fair' means everyone gets what they need or is appropriate for them. It's a hard lesson to learn for kids but they generally seem to understand as long as they are getting what they need. One of our kids is getting a $10 Christmas gift and the other is getting a $70 gift, but they should both be happy because they are things they've asked for and wanted. Thankfully they aren't old enough to really notice the disparity in cost.

Gina--I am curious to see how Little Dude does with school. S-Boogie also 'thinks outside the box' a lot and she is also a 'big' thinker--which is why nothing ever gets finished because it's usually turned into a big elaborate project. She's also not particularly competitive. Little Dude is more persistent, but also more volatile and stubborn and doesn't like people to tell him what to do. So far in preschool he's very compliant and his teacher loves him, but I'm curious to see how real school goes, especially if he's bored by things. We'll see!
MOV said…
So glad you wrote this piece. This is something we all feel, but not everyone discusses. My oldest son is very bright, and OTHER people constantly compare my youngest to him! My own sister and I have definitely had our issues, so I just try to make both of my children feel loved and not in competition with anyone.

I think that by virtue of him being a boy, who tend to socially mature at a much slower pace, you won't have as many issues as if they were the same sex. They can each carve out their niche.

That being said, I think there are few things in life that affect who we become more than our interaction with our siblings. There is just such inherent competition/comparison, even when it doesn't come from your parents.

I like the comments about embracing the differences and causing the WHOLE family to celebrate those things, not just the parents. I think the best thing brothers and sisters can do for one another is to be supportive, but I think the parents have to teach that, both by modeling language for how we speak to siblings, and by singling out kids for a one-on-one turn with mom or dad.
Anonymous said…
I am living your life! My second daughter is a true genius and my oldest, while hungry to learn and wise, doesn't have her sister's withitness. I support each daughter's accomplishments (and their little sister's.) To me, I have my children in activities other than school so each one can really be a special "star" - you're the gymnast! GO YOU! You're the dancer! YAY! You get the idea.

And then for my controversial comment - I took my second out of gifted. The social skills she was learning were so appalling and both my, and my husband's experiences in the program as children were so awful I thought, "Why am I doing this? Those children are brats! (at my kids' school.)" You don't have to be gifted to get into AP classes - you need to be high-achieving, which is a much different lesson, and a far better one to learn for life. In fact, both my husband and I realized years ago that the most gifted students in our high schools, with only one exception, and adults we'd never want to be (nearly 40 still living at home, lacking serious social skills, etc.) You're only the smart baby impressing adults at parties for so long, and then the world catches up.

I say all that because I feel the best thing to teach ALL of my children - more than to be the smartest, is to be the hardest worker. That will level the playing field and the gap doesn't seem so big. JMO...
Anonymous said…
Can't edit, but I meant to say that the kids we went to gifted with ARE adults we wouldn't emulate. I'm trying so hard to fight the reality that many of these gifted kids have such difficulty socialization/reality problems. It's a struggle all it's own.

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