Every child influences other children in the family, but because gifted children often attract so much attention and require extra resources, they can cause some special pressures for siblings, parents and even other relatives. Although parents of gifted children are usually sophisticated enough so that they don’t make overt comparisons between children, the super praise they and others deliver, both directly to the children and indirectly through referential talk about their children, has the impact of comparison. Furthermore, even if no adults make comparisons, children always compare themselves. Every child would like to be the most loved or best at something in the family. That holds for their emotional level, but on a more rational level, most of the time they’re happy to have siblings.
Gifted children who are first in the family often get the most opportunities for attention, but also suffer the greatest risks for dethronement. “Only” children fit in the same category as first children, but because they have no siblings their risk of dethronement is likely to come from school or cousins. First gifted children are after all, usually experiments. Whether they come earlier than expected, or later than hoped for, they are often over-welcomed. If they are also first grandchildren, it adds to the dramatic attention and power they often receive. Children who are empowered too early (as in kings and princesses?) may suffer severely when child number two joins the home or when they enter school and must share attention and feelings of being special with others. If early teachers emphasize gifted children’s negative qualities and don’t give recognition to their unusual giftedness, they often go underground and are either sad, angry or become behavior problems. If a younger sibling surpasses them in skills or attention getting, they may no longer even act gifted. They can experience a true shutdown.
Some sibling combinations are particularly competitive. Two boys close in age often compete, with one being the achiever, the other the underachiever; or one rigid and organized and the other creative and disorganized. While that can also happen with two girls close in age, they seemed to be less overtly competitive. A boy following a perfect sister, or even an older boy with a perfect younger sister, usually struggles to avoid hard work for fear that work will define him as not that smart or cool.
In all of these combinations it can be tempting to label, or as one parent said, “brand” each child differently in the hope of minimizing competition. Thus one becomes the scholar, the other the creative one, a third the jock, and the fourth the social one, etc. Branding children actually causes them to feel more competitive, each assuming they must be best in their area of expertise. The academic often assumes he or she can’t be creative or do sports or be social and that exclusiveness within the label leaves the jock believing that she is not intelligent, the creative one busy exploring drugs for the most creative experience and the social one having the best beer parties.
Attempting to treat all children the same or even equally causes a similar problem in that children feel pressured to measure up to each other and often avoid each other’s domain. Let kids know that you have a whole smart family, all able to do healthful physical activities, think creatively and communicate socially with others helps. Remind them that the family is not a competition but a team whose members can help each other. If each child works hard to develop talents and skills and contributes to supporting the family, and even a little to making our world a better place, each child can be happy and feel fulfilled.
Families teaming up to plan secret surprises for another family member or cheering each other on at a contest, performance or a sports event, helps kids to learn to be cheerleaders for each other. Parents can remind children they can’t expect equality, but that parents will try to be fair to all children, encouraging each of their strengths and helping each with problems, to the extent possible. Sometimes resources can be tight and children will have to take turns having the opportunities they deserve or need.
Grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins are all part of the environment that influences children. Respect between adults goes a long way in minimizing competitive feelings and encouraging respect by children. Children are thus more likely to see the adults around them as positive role models. Competition, opposition and disrespect among adult family members foster opposition and rebelliousness in children.
Parent Tips For What Parents Can Do To Create A Whole Smart Family
This article is provided as a service of the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, a 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to supporting profoundly gifted young people 18 and under. To learn more about the Davidson Institute’s programs, please visit www.DavidsonGifted.org.
The appearance of any information in the Davidson Institute's Database does not imply an endorsement by, or any affiliation with, the Davidson Institute. All information presented is for informational purposes only and is solely the opinion of and the responsibility of the author. Although reasonable effort is made to present accurate information, the Davidson Institute makes no guarantees of any kind, including as to accuracy or completeness. Use of such information is at the sole risk of the reader.