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We started homeschooling this year, and my four year-old daughter has been comparing herself to her six year-old brother, then acting afraid to do anything when she doesn't measure up.

For example, she will ask to write, which she doesn't know how to do yet. Note this isn't an assignment we give her, it's always at her own request. I say something like, "Okay, let's learn to write," and give her something at her level, but a little challenging, like practicing writing an 'A'. Sometimes she does it happily, but just as often she balks away and whimpers.

I'm not sure the exact reason, but I think it's because it's not the kind of writing her brother does. Her brother did his first year at public school, so she didn't see his beginning steps of learning to write. To her view, when we started "doing school," her brother already knew how to write and she didn't. She doesn't understand why he can do it and she can't, even though she is far ahead of where her brother was at her age.

How can we help her understand and be happy with the level she is, and not be afraid to struggle with something she sees is now easy for her brother? Why does she ask to do something, then not want to do it?

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up vote 2 down vote accepted

This is a common problem for younger siblings and although, I have an only child (at the moment) I've worked quite a bit with a number of different ages etc.

I would address this one in a combination of ways and figure on it being a process to "fix."

Show her how her brother has had to practice to learn things

  • Do you still have any samples of her older brother's work from about the same age - or at least when he got started? Maybe you have a Father's Day card, HOliday card, or something along those lines that he made for you tucked away somewhere? If you do, pull it out and show it to her. Also show her any such samples you have from your own childhood. She must also have some friends about her same age - how is their writing? Can she think about the writing she has seen her friends do and realize none of her friends having writing that looks as wonderful as her older brother's who has had more time (2 years) to practice? Then, does big brother still have some improving to do? Show her (without being crazy critical) that he is still working on it too.

  • Will older brother be a mentor and talk to her about his process? He must remember some of what it took to learn to write. Maybe he can even be the one to show her (with a little prior coaching from you to remind him to take it slow etc. etc.) the proper movements for each letter. Have him share a story with her about the letter that was hardest for him to learn. . . ?

  • Point out something her older brother is learning now and how he is going about learning it (pick something where she can actually watch his practicing) Why does he keep trying and working at it? Help her understand the process by seeing her brother engaged in it.

Show her times in the past when she has had to practice something but successfully mastered the thing over time.

  • Remind her she wasn't even born already knowing how to eat food. Walk her down the baby aisle and talk about the process a baby goes through - start with milk, then soft foods in small chunks (many babies even have mashed and pureed everything first. . .) etc. Point out she had to learn to use the potty . . . Point out something more recent that she needed to practice before she had it mastered and talk about it - ask her lots of questions about what that was like. How did it feel when it was hard? How does it feel now that she's got the skill down? . . .

Show her favorite famous role-models and how they became good at their "thing"

  • You are a role-model so get out old photos or videos of you learning new skills - the classic first time riding a bike without training wheels is a great one if you remember how it felt well. Talk about your own failures (that eventually led to success because you kept at it). Do the same with mom.

  • Pick a family favorite celebrity (I like edison and the light bulb, my husband likes Babe Ruth) and talk about a story that required lots of practice before success was achieved. For every hole-in one, birdie and eagle Tiger Woods ever got, he has an equal number or higher slices in his entire golfing history I'm sure (especially if you go way back to beginning when he was four). Find out for your family favorite and talk about that.

Let her be the judge

  • When she is practicing writing a new letter, don't compliment or critique the letters themselves. Comment on her efforts. "Wow, I noticed you really took your time with that letter A. Were you trying really hard?" Your Daughter: "yes." You: "Oh, That is fabulous honey."

  • Ask her to pick out her two favorite examples of each letter and put a sticker on them (or write a star or smiley face or whatever above them). Ask her why she picked the two letters she chose as her best.

  • Ask her if she thinks there is something specific she can do to improve her writing of the letter she is working on. Usually, kids are right on this count, they do have sample letters to compare theirs to. If you think her circles (like in o, a, g, etc. are even and round enough and she says they could be rounder or something), respond honestly but don't discount her statement - something like, "Hmm. You think they could be rounder and more even? Wow, I think it looks pretty good. You must be working really hard to make your letters the best they can b." If you agree with her assessment, let her know you agree, but find something that did go well with the letter to comment on, "Yes, it could be a little rounder there, but look how the bottom touches the bottom line"

Finally, you are probably already doing this, but ALWAYS!! ALWAYS, ALWAYS focus on the journey and her efforts more than the actual result at this stage of the game

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