I like to think I treat my children the same. My little boy has put a worrying thought into my head…

A few weeks ago he asked me if I love his sister more than I love him. “Of course not!” came my Mother, daughter and son having a hug on Bridlngton promenade. Sibling rivalry: too hot to handle?response. “I love you both the same.” “So why are you always telling her you are proud of her, and you don’t say that to me?”

Uh oh. Potential parenting fail (again). The thing that really challenged me is that, to some degree, he’s right. I do praise my daughter more for certain things than I do him. My justification is that she has a brain injury, and it is harder for her to do things that come naturally to most children. She is only mildly affected, but her brain has to calculate different ways of doing things all day, every day. And this is why I celebrate her small successes more than I do his.

Celebrating small successes

Annoyingly, physical activities come very easily to my boy. My daughter learned to ride a 2-wheeler at 5; my son was 3 1/2. He learned to swim before she did. Anything she learns – he copies, and learns doubly fast.

My daughter and I spent an afternoon learning a violin piece.  I’d been teaching her how to pluck open Girl with plaits playing the violin. Sibling rivalry: too hot to handle?strings, and we’d finally progressed to playing these with the bow.   We performed for the male half of the family when they got home.  My son picked up my daughter’s tiny violin, held the bow and violin in the wrong hands, and immediately played the piece we’d been learning all afternoon.  Hmmm.

I did, of course, praise him for his natural ability and fantastic aural skills.  It was frustrating that my daughter had had to work at it, and it came so easily to him.  I think we heaped on the congratulations liberally after she got a merit for her Grade 1 as it is a real achievement for someone who has fine motor skills issues to be able to learn a stringed instrument.  Will I be so voluble when he takes a music exam?  I hope so.

What was it that I did wrong?

When I challenged my boy on what it was I didn’t praise him about, it turned out that I hadn’t waxed too lyrical about his three 1st place and one 2nd in the four races he ran on Sport’s Day.  Apparently I celebrated my daughter’s 3rd place in the long distance race far more than the four certificates he had had.  She’s had about 4 certificates over 5 Sport’s Days and he has had 7 over two.  I just can’t get it right.

I know how these things can stay with people.  We remember this sort of thing as adults – those of us with siblings can recall one or more moments when we feel our sibling was favoured by our parents.  For some, the feeling comes strongly, and it shapes their personalities iTwo blonde women sitting together, smiling. Sibling rivalry: too hot to handle?n adult life.

A friend of mine had a baby before her older sister.  Breastfeeding had come easily to the younger child, and the elder struggled.  Her mum told her, “Now it’s your turn to be better than your sister at something.”  Boy, did that sting!  Her mum said with the very best of intentions, but that’s not how it was taken.

It’s your turn to be better

Lessons for myself?  Keep talking.  Remind my boy that his sister hasn’t had the easiest start to life.  She’s always on the back foot.  And keep a mental log of the times I have praised him (if that is possible…).  When he feels worse off, remind him that I AM proud of him.  And that if I do seem to spend more praising his sister, I still love them equally.

I was asked yesterday if there is anything she does better than him.  Sleep, I said.  But that’s a whole other story!

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14 comments

  1. Ekk I can imagine is hard when things come so easily to one and not to the other, to try and give the same congratulations to one who may have to try hard as the one who finds it easy.

    1. If only it was acceptable to them to praise the amount of effort that had gone in, rather than what had been achieved! Hmmm – might need to think further about that one…

  2. Its a difficult one. I struggle with this too, there are 10 years between my boys. So my eldest had had all my attention for 10 years before his little brother arrived, and he found it difficult to share my attention. He often says I ‘prefer’ my youngest, but only because parenting a 3 year old is quite different to parenting an almost 14 year old!! 🙂

    1. Oh – that’s really tricky! I can see how a teenager may view any “preference” as room for debate. I have to say I’m not entirely looking forward to the teenage years…

  3. I’m one of these … I did psychology so from that learnt that every parent has a favourite and every child does aswell.
    My mum has the excuse every time we ask who’s favourite – ‘none of you, I dislike the both of you equally’

  4. I love how honest and relatable you are in the post! I don’t have children but I have a younger brother and I saw these struggles for sure. Through it all we remained best friends and supporters. I am so happy when he has success and he is happy for me. Brother + Sister love!

  5. Sibling rivalry is perfectly normal, isn’t it. All you can do is try to be consistent in your parenting but it’s really difficult. Caitlin is 10 and Ieuan is 8 but he already outstrips her at maths. She, on the other hand, is much better at reading and english in general. I try to get them to coach each other and encourage a bit of a competitive spirit.

  6. I can imagine it must be a struggle to get the balance right. I’ve only had one child so I’ve never had to deal with this but I can see it would be quite difficult especially as little ones pick up easily on things like this.

  7. I guess this exists in every family..today when I broke a biscuit in half for both my kids, my daughter wanted to know why her brother’s piece was larger and I had to explain it was not. I guess they are at the age where they want to be more special than the other.

  8. I know exactly how this feels and I also know that as parents we try as much as we can to balance it all out. I think you’re doing a great job on how to make sure you’re also giving the same amount of appreciation for your son.

  9. This was the case with me and my sister as well. I was the fast learner, never really needed to study at home because I would understand everything from class. On the other hand, my sister would have to spend long hours doing homework and my mother would always praise her for it.

  10. I can imagine it’s hard for you to even dish out the praise, especially when one child “needs” it more than the other. I think as he grows, he will understand why she ended up being praised more, but as a child it must still sting a little. You are doing your best and as long as he knows you’re proud of him and you love him, what else can you do?

  11. It’s a balancing act! I agree that those seemingly little things can stay with people right into adulthood. I think having a kid who can come to you easily with those thoughts, and your attitude to always try to do better… that’s the most important thing.

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