I have 4 children, two of them 14 months apart (ages 3 and 4). The 3 year old can recognize all his letters and numbers and can do initial sounds. The 4 year old can as well (not quite as surprising, but still ahead). I fear that soon the 3 year old will bypass the 4 year old in academic skill. We are trying to stress good behaviour over academics, but the 4 year old is bound to realize that her younger brother is doing the same reading (and possibly more reading) than she is. Suggestions on how to deal with this upcoming problem would be greatly appreciated. I am aware that it is important to stress what each child is good at, and that each child is special and I do this, but lets face it the importance of academic achievement is hard to get away from when children are in school.
I was better in school and music than my younger siblings, but my brother always skunked me in athletics and strategy games, one sister is a much better artist, and my other sister was always able to make friends more easily. Does it hurt to have a younger sibling be better at something than you are? Sure, a little. However, there's not much a parent can do about that other that what you already mentioned about stressing what each child is good at, setting expectations for each individual, and expecting each individual to live up to his or her own potential.
You can't shield your children from the hurt of unequal talents, but you can teach them constructive ways to deal with it. The competition can drive you either to completely give up, or to improve as much as you can. I'm still not as good as my younger siblings at athletics, strategy games, art, and people skills, but I truly believe I'm better at those things than I would have been without their influence. The embarrassment of a younger sibling being better than me made me want to practice those skills.
I would worry more about the other side of the equation. As a consequence of my 7 year-old's cerebral palsy, my 4 year-old is ahead of her in most ways. Instead of the older child being jealous, what we see more often is the younger child feeling he should have the same lower standards. For example, he has faked her spasticity to avoid having to clean up the toys. He doesn't understand why he doesn't get the same amount of praise for things that are very difficult for his older sister but very easy for him. We frequently have to explain why we have higher expectations for him, as children are hyper-aware of "fairness" but are unable to comprehend all the variables that go into it. The difference between your children won't be as drastic, but the same dynamic applies.
Begin pointing out your strengths and weaknesses and compare them to your spouse or other adults in your child's life. Find things your older child does well and compare them to your weaknesses. Create an atmosphere in the home that it is normal for everyone to have different abilities at different things.
Focus on rewarding effort not outcomes. When a gifted child does well without trying hard don't praise and reward their lazy achievements.
For a long time your older child will be physically and emotionally more developed than your younger child. Explain how she can be gracious about being older, stronger, taller, etc. Keep it concrete. And anticipate that she will use her elder status to influence, punish, and control her younger sibling (as in all sibling rivalries). Set a strong tone that criticizing others talents is foolish and wrong.
Be honest about differences and play to each child's strengths.
You cannot avoid this in families of more than one child. The best you can do is
- Teach your children that everyone has at least one talent.
- Embrace each of your child's talents, encouraging them to develop their skills through study and practice.
- Don't assume that the apparently less talented child will always be that way.
The important thing is to encourage them to improve themselves for their own sake rather than focusing on competing against others. Having said that, a bit of competition is healthy. We need to occasionally measure ourselves against others to see how we're tracking rather than deluding ourselves. And in the real world there will always be winners and losers.