Does your child live in the shadow of an older sibling?
Maybe big brother was a baseball star, and everyone expects little brother to be good too.
Maybe big sister was a 4.0 student and teachers think little sister will be an honors student too.
As parents, we are hopefully proud of all of our kids, but there may be times when we unconsciously lengthen the shadow of the older sibling, leaving a younger brother or sister to wonder just where they fit in.
I am the youngest of six kids and I can honestly say I never felt like I was overshadowed by any of my older brothers and sisters. And I was coming behind some pretty outstanding people: a college student body president, a homecoming queen, athletes, musicians–honestly I should have felt very inadequate. What did my parents do to keep me from feeling as if I lived in the shadows? What can you do to keep younger siblings out of the shadows?
- Converse with each one individually. Take time each day to talk to each of your children about what’s important to them. Don’t always address them as a group. And make a habit of telling each one you love him and are proud of him, recognizing his efforts in whatever he is doing.
- Recognize that they may all want different things, even though someone’s wishes will probably win out. When they fight over what restaurant to go to or what TV show to watch, someone will not get what they want. Instead of brushing over someone’s opinion, acknowledge it and then let them know that families must compromise. Maybe next time his choice will win out.
- Treat all sporting events equally. This is a tough one for sports parents who have kids of all ages playing. And even more so, if one child sits the bench, the other doesn’t. We tend to think the older kids’ games are more important, or more fun to watch.
When my daughter and son were both playing basketball in high school, their games often conflicted. My husband and I either divided and conquered, or took turns going to one or the other’s games. Conversely, I had a friend who always sent his wife to watch his daughter play, and he rarely showed up for her games, yet never missed his son’s games, even when there was no conflict. I honestly felt sorry for the girl. How could she not feel that her dad saw her sport as less important than her older brothers’?
The only exception I would give to this is when the older sibling has a really important game or special event. Simply explain to the younger sibs that their time will come too.
- Avoid showing favoritism. This may be a “duh” statement. But you’d be surprised how many parents play favorites without knowing it or without admitting it. Maybe they believe one child over another more often. Or maybe they express love more often to a more lovable child. Expressions of love and support for each child consistently are important.
- Don’t leave little ones in the dust. Instead of always picking games or movies or restaurants that the big kids want, cater to the younger ones now and then. Don’t leave them lagging behind, wishing they were big enough to join in on the fun.
- Try not to make a bigger deal out of your older kids’ accomplishments than the young ones’. Sure big brother’s overtime varsity football game may have been amazing, but recognize that little sister’s peewee soccer game (where they don’t even keep score) is just as important, because it’s important to her.
When we treat our kids as unique individuals, each important and special, we start them on a journey of confidence and self-acceptance.
Perhaps you’ve lived in the shadows of an older sibling, or maybe you’ve seen it with your own kids. What did you do to help them come out of the shadows? I’d love to hear your story.
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