Parenting Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for parents, grandparents, nannies and others with a parenting role. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

My husband and I have tried very hard to show both of our children that they are loved and cared for, and to encourage their own unique interests and to be proud of the individuals they are growing into. My boys (4 and 2) like to dress in matching clothes sometimes and play the same games sometimes, but they are also very much their own little selves.

The problem is that when we go out, other people tend to pay attention to the little one and ignore the elder. I wasn't overly concerned about it at first, but the elder has started noticing and commenting on it. And most concerning of all is that now he has started firmly declaring that his eyes are blue and big and beautiful (they are a lovely brown) like his little brother's, and he will start doing whatever it is that his brother has done recently that has gotten a stranger's attention (like singing the alphabet, or using baby talk).

My 4-year-old is a good kid, and I am really concerned about him being down on himself. I can't change what other people say to him, nor can I make them pay attention to both boys equally, so how do I help him understand that he doesn't need to compare himself to his brother?

I should mention that by "stranger," I don't mean some random weirdo on the street, but rather residents of our town who we encounter with regularity but don't know well socially.

share|improve this question
up vote 11 down vote accepted

I think that the adage "forewarned is forarmed" would be good here. Since you have identified a situation that you want to be prepared for, and you don't have the power to change the other adults, you need to be prepared for these encounters.

I would keep a mental list of recent accomplishments that your 4yr old has done and when the other adult has lavished praise onto your 2yr old, you can drop those.

Them: "Oh, look how cute Bobby is, doesn't he just do that thing that a 2 year old can do i a most wonderful way." Bobby: "daa daaa baa baa goo goo" You: "Why thanks you, and did you know that the Billy has learned to count to 10" Billy: "1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10" Them: "Well isn't that wonderful too"

Just interject it as required. It's like going to a dinner party, you should always have 3 jokes and 3 observations at hand for any conversation.

I think that there will always be a level of sibling rivalry and one-up-man-ships (I see it on my 6yr old and 18 month old now) but I think it is completely normal until they start to have those areas that they each excel at, which they certainly will.

share|improve this answer
I think one of the problems with being a dad of a newborn is that my three jokes are the same ones I had from before she was born. At least, I think they are. I'm not sure. So I'll just reuse them for the next twenty years until my kids tell me to quit it :) – mmr Jul 18 '12 at 1:41
You could always go which "Guess What?" "Chicken Butt!!" – Chris M Jul 18 '12 at 3:47
@mmr: Don't worry, your children will teach you new jokes in due time! (New to them, at least, you may have heard them before some decades ago...) – Treb Jul 18 '12 at 5:11
This is a very good idea. Thank you. – Kit Z. Fox Jul 18 '12 at 17:32

Yeah, it's a tough one. Here's what I do:

  • I avoid telling my daughter (she's 5) how to feel
  • I tell her stories about how people coo'ed over her when she was 2.
  • I give her praise for age appropriate achievements and tell her how her younger brother couldn't do those things.
  • If she tries to get praise for doing the same things as her brother, I tell her what he's doing is special because he is 2. I try to tell her something she could do that would be similarly impressive for someone her age.
  • From time-to-time I just plain indulge her and pretend she's a cute little baby.

So, I guess, be understanding, non-judgemental, emphasise how the attention is function of the 2 year old being 2 and not because he's any better.

Hope that's helpful -Dylan

share|improve this answer
In addition to pileofrogs suggestions, I'd like to encourage you that this is normal behavior for a four-year-old. My only child did this for a short while last year after seeing her cousin that was just barely two at the time (she was four). Keep doing what you are doing, do the above and know it won't last forever. – balanced mama Jul 18 '12 at 14:20

A dirty solution: my suggestion would be to find something your 4 year old would like doing (swimming, martial arts, drawing, sports etc). Performing any activities without his brother present will earn him praise from trainers, making him feel better about himself.

You can assign your children age appropriate chores in the house. IE, your 4 year old may be able to help with preparing food, clear and set the table. Seeing how he's able to do some tasks that his brother can't do yet will also make him feel more accomplished.

Find something that the older boy can teach the younger boy. Praise him for it.

share|improve this answer

its important to reinforce that

Every child needs atleast ONE ADULT who thinks that He or SHE is amazing and has faith in that child. As parents, when we encourage them and know them and love them, they grow in the security of that love and sometimes others' comments dont shake them as much. Spend time reinforcing when in the company of that child, that "he/she is the most special unique XYZ* (* = name) in the world. In the entire world, there is no other Jacob/Amy just like him/her."

Kids would be more hurt when we acknowledge and accept other's public opinion that one of them is smarter in their presence.

If the younger one is being noticed, spend time with the elder child reinforcing how different, smart and special he or she is.

I would not keep with the trend of trying to reverse the damage by saying to the kid, see how well you can do x y or z better than your sibling since that reinforces the same spirit of oneupmanship in a negative way. but rather highlight the uniqueness of the child. I disagree that sibling rivalry has to always be accepted. a bit of competitiveness is ok, but not at the cost of hurting the self-worth of the child.

Let your children do different sports and different musical instruments. a differentiation factor in terms of what they pursue- based on their interests of course - as far as possible will help avoid comparisons.

when the older one looks sad, its important to acknowledge it if you havent mitigated it when it happens. and its important to troubleshoot right then and there.. with a simple pre-rehearsed statement like "yes, they are both unique and special and have such differently beautiful characteristics." or something to that effect.

Hope this helps. All the best!

*source: am a mommy of two smallies, have been a student counsellor and trainer for 4 years, have a psychology bkgd

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.