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.

5 Answers 5


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.

  • 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
    Commented Jul 18, 2012 at 1:41
  • 3
    You could always go which "Guess What?" "Chicken Butt!!"
    – Chris M
    Commented Jul 18, 2012 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
    Commented Jul 18, 2012 at 5:11

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

  • 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. Commented Jul 18, 2012 at 14:20
  • Was going to answer, but it overlaps with this. I'll just add that negative reinforcement is a good thing in this case if done properly. When the older child does something age-appropriate for the younger (4yo sings ABCs because 2yo did), you can remind the older child this activity is beneath his age and that this is not at all praiseworthy for him - "We were happy when you could say ABC when you were 2 also, but now that you're 4 you should be able to do more than that." This is best if you can follow up with something the 4yo did recently that was age appropriate as positive reinforcement.
    – Aaron
    Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 15:46

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.


I face a similar problem with a 6 month old and a 6 year old. Everyone mentions how much the younger one looks like the elder when she was that age. I question their premise from the get go, as if they can actually remember what someone else's child looked like 5.5 years before.

That being said, the 6 year old is beginning to establish some independence and I support it by mentioning how she has become her own "woman." I focus on the positive things she does for the family (cleaning up after herself, helping with the baby, etc.) I also mention how 5.5 years means she is more like a grown up than a baby. While babies may get the attention, the older one continues to amaze and astound in her own way, which I make sure is celebrated when appropriate.

Simply put, the "strangers" tend to focus on the baby and how "cute" she is. Up until the youngest was born, "strangers" always mentioned how gorgeous the eldest one was and how beautiful her hair etc is. I simply explain the difference between "cute baby" and "beautiful young lady." One comes with immediate attention, the other is a seed that grows within that young lady and gains attention in a very different but positive way.

In my own humble way I am attempting to build a bond between them, the eldest, an older sibling who will be there for her sister well after the rest of those people (and myself) are gone. The youngest will grow to understand the differences in her own way.


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

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