Per request, today's post is on giftedness and sibling love and rivalry. As any parent of two or more kids knows (and I will find out when baby number 2 arrives in September), just because kids are related doesn't mean they're anything alike. They have different interests, different temperaments, and in some cases within families, some children are highly gifted and others are not. What happens then?
When I first thought about this question, I assumed that when one sibling is highly gifted and the other is "normal" (whatever that means), this would lead to a certain level of strain. After all, if good grades and test scores come easy for one child, and require a lot of effort from the other, wouldn't the child who has to work so hard resent that? If a younger sibling can easily outpace the older on reading or -- seemingly worse -- is accelerated into the same class, wouldn't that be difficult to deal with?
But thinking about it a bit more, and reading about it a bit more, I realized that this (probably) conventional wisdom is not based in fact. For starters, not all highly gifted children are academic superstars -- the "normal" child might actually be happier in school. The child who is not intellectually precocious may have her own interests and talents.
This second version of events turns out to be backed up by some research. According to this report in the Duke Gifted Letter from Nancy Robinson, a study of 378 sibling pairs (ages 8-13, some involving 2 gifted siblings, some involving 1 gifted sibling, or none) revealed that "According to their mothers, the children with a gifted sibling had fewer behavioral problems, and in general they were described with more positive adjectives than the children in pairs with no gifted child. Gifted children described their siblings in a friendlier way, and their mothers confirmed their more amicable relationships. We noted not a single unfavorable difference. Our best guess, based on this study, was that having a gifted sibling was simply a ready excuse for the ordinary wear and tear that brothers and sisters inflict on each other."
Robinson has lots of great advice for how to deal with siblings of different levels of intellectual ability: "Teach your children that “fair” is not necessarily “the same” and that you will meet each child’s needs and passions as best you can. ...
Make time for companionship, hugs, fun, and time alone with each of your children. ... If you spend time chauffeuring one of them to lessons, use the wait time with the other child for a trip to a nearby park or library to practice ball skills or read a special book. At the dinner table, do not let the more verbal child dominate the conversation....Treasure each child for his or her own quirks and assets. Minimize comparisons. Most families — even families of identical twins — assign one child to be 'the smart one,' 'the grumpy one,' or 'the jock.' By implication, the other child is 'dumb,' 'sunny,' or 'a klutz.'"
Not much good can come out of locking children into sibling identities like that!