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Parenting Advice: When a Younger Sibling Excels

Child development expert and author Michelle Anthony, Ph.D., answers your trickiest kid questions.
 

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Question: Our younger daughter is a more advanced reader than her older brother, and he can’t stand it. How can we encourage them both while at the same time limiting their tendency to compare? 

 
Answer: Having one child excel at something over another is a common issue in families. The key to controlling the inevitable comparisons is to help both of your children better understand that each of them have their own talents and struggles.
 
Open the door for your son to tell you how unfair it feels that his younger sister finds reading easier than he does. Empathize, but then help him discover the things that come easy to him. Make sure those talents get equal time at your family dinner table. Similarly, you can celebrate your daughter’s love for reading while helping her recognize the things that are more challenging for her. You want to remind them that they’re each on their own journey.
 
In order to foster a passion for reading in both kids, find ways that allow each to feel successful. Helping your son discover a series or character he likes can pique his interest. Or consider getting books on an e-reader for him so that the length of the book and the size of the font are not intimidating. (Check out “E-Books vs. Print” for great options.) The bottom line? When each child gets what he or she needs to feel competent, and when both understand their unique ways of learning, they may cut out the comparing and start supporting each other instead! 
 
 
Question: There is a lot of pressure to volunteer in our school. I’d love to do more, but between work and home, I just don’t have a lot of time. The guilt is really getting to me! 
 
Answer: Don’t worry! There are lots of ways you can be involved without feeling completely overwhelmed. Some ideas: 
  • Donate. Whether it’s used books for the class library, bake sale items for the fundraiser, or extra supplies for the classroom, giving things is just as helpful as giving time.
  • Help after hours. Offer to clean up after the third-grade play or during teacher appreciation week. Set up for the school carnival or auction. There are plenty of events that occur outside of work hours, so pick one that you’re passionate about and help out then. 
  • Tap into your talent. Offer to write a grant for a great field trip, or use your computer know-how to create a password-protected website so that parents can share photos, get updates, and more. 
  • Cut yourself a break. If your schedule is just too unforgiving right now, take a breath and let it go. Your child is in school for 13 years — you’ll have many opportunities to get involved at different points. Meanwhile, take 15 minutes to e-mail your child’s teacher with a funny story or a heartfelt “thank you” to let her know how much you appreciate all her efforts on your child’s behalf. 
 
Michelle Anthony, Ph.D., is the author of Little Girls Can Be Mean: Four Steps to Bully-Proof Girls in the Early Grades. 

 

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