Younger siblings and colleges

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Discus: Parents Forum: 2004 Archive - Part 2: Younger siblings and colleges
By Patient (Patient) on Tuesday, August 31, 2004 - 11:49 pm: Edit

I am looking for advice on younger siblings who feel a bit in the shadow of their high-achieving older sibs--who are daunted by their achievements, and want to emulate them but are afraid they cannot. I realize this is a general inquiry but just am wondering if this is common, and if people have some ideas about diminishing the stress.

By Coureur (Coureur) on Wednesday, September 01, 2004 - 01:26 am: Edit

I worry about this a lot for D2. Fortunately she so far (8th grade) seems to every bit as smart as D1 was at her age. But I do know that D2 hates to be openly compared to her high-achieving big sis. Thus, she has gone out of her way to deliberately do some things differently to avoid direct comparisons. D1 played bassoon, so D2 is playing French horn. D1 took German, so D2 is taking French. Things like that.

Establishing her own identity in these small ways seems to help, so maybe if your younger child is not doing it in his/her own, you could encourage it.

By Archermom (Archermom) on Wednesday, September 01, 2004 - 02:50 am: Edit

Patient, with 3 daughters, I've always been keenly aware of the very same thing you speak of. When D2 showed an interest in piano, unlike most parents, I kept inquiring whether SHE really wanted to. D1 tends to be more on the serious side while D2 is very down to earth and brings out the silliness in her sister---although both are good students. Now that D1 is off to college, D2 has already established a very different path. And, on those ECs that are similar---such as piano---D2 will end up a notch above D1...and she is excited about the prospect. D3 is a completely different child...and will be starting another middle school next week. Hopefully, that will prevent some of the obvious comparisons. I can appreciate parents who acknowledge that each child is unique.

By Frazzled_One (Frazzled_One) on Wednesday, September 01, 2004 - 06:52 am: Edit

Three daughters here as well. My two youngest have dealt with their big sister's academic success in different ways. The middle child is mega-competitive, and has pushed herself to achieve more than her sister academically, in ECs, even in her part-time job. While the oldest received As pretty much as the result of staying awake in class, d2 will not settle for less than an A-plus even if she has to exhaust herself to do it. And believe me, I've tried to show how I value each as an individual, never made comparisons, read lots of Farber and Mazlich ("Siblings without Rivalry"), etc. D2 is kind of a force of nature and I doubt that any piddly thing we did as parents either made or un-made her.

D3 is my easy one (and I deserved at least one). She's an A-minus student, and exerts herself reasonably at that level. She has one main EC, which she loves, and probably won't pursue any others unless she likes them at least as much. She'd like to go to a well-regarded college, but isn't going to see it as a badge of achievement. She recently pointed out that she's a lot happier at age 14 than either of her sisters were, which is true.

Interesting to read about the dynamics in other 3-sister families. If I could go back to my 30s, I'd definitely want another kid!

By Fireflyscout (Fireflyscout) on Wednesday, September 01, 2004 - 07:21 am: Edit

It's been a pretty good process to observe for my 8th-grade son. He's the type that needs to have a clear goal in mind before he exerts any effort. So now that he has an idea of what he wants to do (computer science) and where he would ideally like to go (UT school of computer science, Turing scholar), I've told him what it will take to get him there (top 10% of class at least).

My daughter is the in-your-face kind of an academic standout. My son is just as intelligent, but much more low-keyed. I've always really appreciated the teachers who have taken the time to learn what motivates him.

By Carolyn (Carolyn) on Wednesday, September 01, 2004 - 12:51 pm: Edit

Patient, I have a slightly different problem. My daughter is the oldest and has already begun to feel overshadowed by the accomplishments of her two-years younger brother. She has talents of her own (she's a terrific artist and creative writer) but it's hard when she sees her brother breezing through courses that she had to work so hard in.
The capper was when he took the SATs in 7th grade for CTY...and scored nearly 200 points higher than she did on the PSATs in 10th grade. Now that he's started at her high school, I expect things will get even trickier.

By Archermom (Archermom) on Wednesday, September 01, 2004 - 01:13 pm: Edit

Frazzled One, it is interesting how each child establishes their own identity. While ordering textbooks recently, D2 was cognizant of the costs associated with them but still wanted her OWN set (even the paperbacks!) because D1 had made notes on the ones she used!!! I would've appreciated the interpretative notes on the novels but D2 wanted to do it on her own. That was different...

D2 started high school today...I found an excuse to accompany her to the bus stop...she didn't mind. D1 would've cringed even at the thought! Oh well...

By Momz (Momz) on Wednesday, September 01, 2004 - 01:18 pm: Edit

D #2 has always been her own worst critic. My girls are only 17 months apart but very different. #2 has been the total tom-boy while #1 was ballet and lace. Comparisons are natural but need to be watched. D2 biggest complaint is when a teacher calls her by her sisters name. Their latin teacher would give her a piece of candy every time he did it acknowledging the mistake. She is a high school senior and does not want to apply to the school her sister is at. I really think she works harder then her sister to achieve high grades and in someways they mean more. IMO

By Tkdgal (Tkdgal) on Wednesday, September 01, 2004 - 01:19 pm: Edit

I am the oldest of six - I am scared of what crazy things my parents will say to them about when I was "their age"

By Momoffour (Momoffour) on Wednesday, September 01, 2004 - 02:18 pm: Edit

Three girls here and then a boy. Daughter #2 compares herself to daughter#1 and feels inferior even though she is as capable. I think she is jealous of the college life that #1 enjoys while she is still "stuck" at home in hs. Daughter # 3 is an athlete while #1 and #2 were not, so she has her own identity that way.

I worry about a probable tuition difference. #1 is going to a 38,000 school and #2 may go to a 15,000 state school. She mentioned the difference in tuition in conversation recently.

I never really saw differences in the boy until he got to be about 8 and then the boy/girl differences started to be obvious.

By Patient (Patient) on Wednesday, September 01, 2004 - 02:48 pm: Edit

Good morning (in the West, anyway!), just joining in to see the responses. Thank you so much--it always helps to have your ideas and also your shared experiences and moral support.

To expand on our own situation: son (oldest) is about to go to Stanford in three weeks. Girls (2)are just entering high school. I was the younger of 2 in my own family, with a very high-achieving and well-loved older brother. I now think that my parents just did a very good job of nurturing and encouraging both of us, because I never felt that I was in his shadow--we each excelled at different things and I don't think they EVER compared us in any overt way. He was 7 years older, though, so that makes it a bit easier to distinguish. I think that we both enjoyed each other's successes and I don't remember any jealousy between us, although there might have been some.

One of my daughters has just jumped joyfully into high school and is the textbook example of "explore everything, don't be afraid to try something new, go out and meet new people and get to know new teachers, smile a lot and have fun!". The other seems almost paralyzed by her worry that she somehow won't measure up--to her brother, to her own expectations of herself, to our (unspoken perhaps) expectations. It is hard to watch and it is hard to know what to do and any advice is most welcome.

I believe that all 3 kids are rather close in natural intelligence, and each has some special gifts that one would hope would allow them to feel good about themselves and excel in their own way. At this point, happiness and self-esteem are the only things I care about--I would prefer to worry about long-range issues later! Best to all and thanks.

By Bookworm (Bookworm) on Wednesday, September 01, 2004 - 04:34 pm: Edit

My parents tried to not emphasize the differences, so, naturally, I disagree with that policy. I wish parents would reward accomplishments of all sorts. The artist can be rewarded for finishing a great project, an average student for doing extra work, the sensitive child for showing some extra effort for another. Rewards can be cooking their favorite meal, buying some item appropriate for them, etc.
I guess I like the Jungian idea of each person having areas of strength. I always admired my S's artistic and organization sense. We were quite young when realized she could draw covers for reports, and I'd do the writing.

By Robyrm (Robyrm) on Wednesday, September 01, 2004 - 07:57 pm: Edit

With the more reluctant it a matter of confidence, or a matter of style? Has she always been reticent to try new things? This reticence might have nothing to do with fear of measuring up, but just an internal tendency to "watch and wait" before diving in. This would be evident if it has been her pattern all her life...

If one assumes this behavior is due to lack of confidence then you spend a lot of time building "self esteem" in an abstract sense- which can be a challenge-- easier if she has exploitable affinities and talents, though.

IF, however, it is just a stylistic feature-- then a better tact would be to acknowledge and affirm it as a positive- and then gently encourage.."I know it is always hard for you to launch into new things, sometimes it is really great to watch and wait. How will you know when you are ready to try it? CAn I help in any way?"

The other thing is to try completely non-competitive activities-- my son with this style loved the technical aspects of theater work (as the teacher said, "actors are all about ego, techies have no ego-" an interesting summation) and also physical work helpful to others (he is not someone who was going to work with people in a community service situation, but he loved the physical labor...real sense of acheivement)..

I think the reticence can also be, especially in a HS kid, a real blessing....Reluctance to try new things is not always a bad thing!!

By Dak (Dak) on Sunday, September 12, 2004 - 07:43 pm: Edit

Things sometimes work out for the best. Our oldest son attended Stanford and our youngest (after several visits there) decided this was DEFINITELY the school for him. He went into the application process knowing how hard it is to get in, but I think he secretly felt (as we did) that in many ways he was an even stonger candidate than his brother. His hopes were high. And of course many people kept telling him that especially since his brother went there he would be accepted for sure. He knew, and so did we that this wasn't definitely the case.

He applied early decision, was deferred, and then ultimately rejected. It was a great disappointment, but 20 minutes after reading the rejection, he found out online that he was accepted to Duke. Being the positive kid that he is, his usual good attitude kicked in and he was truly excited about this option. Now, after three weeks of school, he told us today that there is NOTHING about the school that's been disappointing to him. He absolutely loves it.

His older brother went with us to take him to school and was truly excited for him, seeing many similarities to the academic opportunities he had at Stanford. We all decided in the long run, that this was a wonderful opportunity for the "younger brother" to have his own unique experience rather than following in his brother's footsteps. I think things often truly work out for the best.

On another note, our middle son has struggled at our state school not knowing what he wanted to do and sometimes had a hard time being sandwiched in between to high achieving brothers. We have always tried real hard to "celebrate" each childs strengths, of which he has many. He's a wonderful kid with WONDERFUL people skills - we've often said that he'll probably end up being the most successful because of that. This year he found his passion in flying and is now enrolled in a college aviation science program - something completey absorbing to him. We rejoice in the fact that he found this new love and he feels so proud of his new direction in life. It's hard, but I think that it's important for parents to allow and nurture differnt paths in life and to go to great efforts to make it "okay" to go about things by way of a different route. Hard to do somethimes, but so important. Sorry for the rambling...

By Achat (Achat) on Sunday, September 12, 2004 - 08:11 pm: Edit

Dak, that's a great story. It must be hard for your second child but glad he has found his niche.

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