Academic differences between siblings

(67 Posts)
diyfan Wed 21-Aug-13 16:03:21

I didn't know where to post this so please do advise if this is not the correct forum for this question and I'll ask for it to be moved. I am very surprised by the differences in academic ability, or, better still, academic achievement between my children (both primary age) but one getting ready to move to secondary next year. They play well together and get on very well but are different academically. One is top of his class. The other is 'not academic at all' according to his teachers. I know some families whose children, all of them, are doing extremely well academically. Is my situation more common than the other (Research shows that siblings supposedly do not differ much on IQ scores - but this clearly cannot be true) and more importantly, what can I do about it? I am very worried about self-esteem issues impacting on my children's relationship. How can I pull one up to the level of the other? I am interested in insights from other families who have dealt with this issue. Many thanks.

christinarossetti Wed 21-Aug-13 16:19:29

How does the 'not academic at all' child feel about it? What things is she/he good at? Is their self-esteem pretty good?

I always did much better at school than my twin sister and it honestly wasn't an issue for her. We argued about absolutely everything else but not that. My mother downplaying my achievements, whilst making the most of anything she did well, caused more problems to be honest.

Academic attainment is only one thing that people can be good at. Rather than thinking of pulling one up to the level of the other, I'd think about focusing and making much of the things that the other one is good at.

Margetts Wed 21-Aug-13 16:25:38

I have twins a girl and a boy who are 6. Over the past 2 years we have had lots of chats about how everything is good a different things. My DD is very good at reading and has very neat hand writing. My DS has struggled with reading and his hand writing is atrocious, but he has a very good general knowledge and very interested in history. I bribe my children to read every night to try and raise the level of my sons reading. You may need to accept that your child might not be academic but their strengths may be in sport, music or the arts.

lljkk Wed 21-Aug-13 16:44:49

...or they may have no real strengths at all!
(yes, I'm looking at you, DS3).
Or the bright ones may be lazyone emotional basket cases while the dim ones may be diligent charmers, so much more to it than brains.

Main thing I feel is to try to let them know that they are wonderful as they are. You are happy for whatever they achieve (no matter how small), and don't be happier for the high flyer than you are for the bumbling-along child. Try very hard to avoid "I'm proud" and instead try "Are you pleased with how you did?" "Wasn't that fun!"

They say you praise effort rather than results, too, but it's not always practical to do that, they will know that A* is better than B. Be practical, "What would YOU enjoy doing next?" not "It's too bad you didn't get such good results."

I know this one is in my future "I'm not so bothered exactly who got what result, I'm interested in whether you each really tried your hardest."

As you can see, We have to tiptoe around this kind of stuff.

My dad is one of 8 spread across 3 marriages, no certified geniuses but some with impressive academic records & prestigious careers and the others barely have any qualifications to their names, barely staying off of benefits. I dunno, they don't seem to have any self-esteem issues about it.

NotCopingWithSchool Wed 21-Aug-13 17:27:51

Is 'not academic' a code for dyslexia?

Do you really think he's not very bright? Ie do you think his academic ability reflects his intelligence?

If not, you need to start investigating dyslexia type stuff.

That is the common reason why there are huge differences between siblings.

FrauMoose Wed 21-Aug-13 17:39:27

My two step-children were very different. My stepson was considered extremely bright at primary school - though he was very late in learning to read and only really bothered to try once his sister (18 months younger) began to be able to do it. He t got labelled by his mother's family as the bright/clever one. I think it was more than he appeared talkative and confident with adults.

My stepdaughter was shyer, dominated by her brother and not very confident at maths. (She was badly taught at a crucial period which didn't help.) She got labelled 'the good one'.

My stepson passed exams for a selective school. My stepdaughter was not offered a place at the selective school after taking the same tests.

However my stepson had increasing problems at secondary school and had rather indifferent GCSEs considering how bright he was felt to be. The school did not feel his grades were good enough for him to carry on there at A-level - after taking a year out he went to sixth form college. My stepdaughter was a steadier character and progressed smoothly through GCSEs and A-levels.

They both went to university - and the consistency of my stepdaughter's efforts meant she did rather better. She's now in her first professional job while my stepson - recently discovered to he a high-functioning autist - is unlikely to settle to anything more than irregular, casual work for the foreseeable future.

I think different children develop at different rates and have different talents. It isn't always the ones who are perceived as 'clever' who end up doing best. All sorts of other personal characteristics may end up being a lot more important.

I think what is most important is that all children in a family feel equally loved and celebrated.

Procrastinating Wed 21-Aug-13 17:51:37

Mine are very different, they sound like yours OP. The headmistress believes that nurture creates the child's ability so she is very confused by my two.
I tried gently pulling one up to the level of the other but it is impossible, it just isn't him at the moment. I looked into dyslexia too - he doesn't have it. This is worth checking - also eyesight and hearing.

My less academic child is very good at art and has lots of friends so I'm not worried about his self-esteem. That's the secret I think, make sure they have something individual they are valued for. School put so much emphasis on academic ability that you need to balance that out at home. I'm an academic so I find that easy - being 'clever' never got me anywhere I wanted to be!

FrauMoose Wed 21-Aug-13 17:53:39

That's interesting Procrastinating. Where - if anywhere - did your academic abilities get you to?

Procrastinating Wed 21-Aug-13 18:01:49

I'm a lecturer, it is mostly OK but I never wanted to be. I feel that I was chanelled into degree, MA, PHd just because I was good at this stuff. I don't really enjoy it (and sometimes I hate it) although my students wouldn't know that. I just got some feedback for a module I ran, all the reviews were excellent but I had to force myself to get on with it every day.
Being less academic would have given me more options in my life. There must be other stuff I would actually enjoy but I never got to find out. This is why I don't worry about my arty son but I do worry about my academic son.

FrauMoose Wed 21-Aug-13 18:13:11

Oh. Part of me feels that I could have gone down exactly that sort of route but various upheavals - connected with my upbringing - got in the way and I swerved off at a variety of tangents. Very odd having ferociously bright, academically inclined daughter. I feel rather alarmed/protective - rather than straightforwardly proud.

Procrastinating Wed 21-Aug-13 18:32:43

Yes, I feel like that about my son Frau. I was alarmed by his school report and I haven't worked out how to give him a more rounded sense of himself and the world yet. Being praised continually for one thing you do well does not give you any perspective, or any other ideas aside from the conventional ones. If I was rich I'd send him to one of those schools where they play guitar and ride horses.

I think the thing with your daughter is to help her find out whether something academic is actually her vocation and joy, or whether she has just got accustomed to being praised for something she finds easy. God knows how though, I'm working on it!

MiaowTheCat Wed 21-Aug-13 19:20:41

Just please don't do what one mum I came across did. She sat and cross referenced her children's reading diaries from the same academic year and came storming up to school to demand to know why on the 19th January DS1 was on Blue books and DS2 was on Purple books (or whatever - I forget the actual levels involved).

DS1 - confident, very academic, loved a challenge.
DS2 - we were desperately working to draw him out of his shell and give him any confidence at all.

We did resolve it well in the end and she became a really happy helper within the class and one of the parents that were great to have a crack on with at the school gates - but no wonder her kid was as highly strung as he was!

Depends on the kids though - I had an ongoing very strongly fought academic turf war with my younger brother but we were both strong in that area (and I kicked his arse!)

BabiesAreLikeBuses Wed 21-Aug-13 20:10:54

I'm intrigued that a teacher would describe a child as not a all academic - does the end of year report indicate any areas of strength? Self esteem is about how they feel about themselves, i totally agree that an 'everyone has talents' approach works... Then show that you value whatever that may be.

diyfan Wed 21-Aug-13 21:30:29

Thank you everyone for you responses. Procrastinating - you could be describing my life. I, too, am a uni. lecturer, and largely fell into it because I was 'good at it', because it was expected of me and because I didn't have the imgination to explore other options. However, I have learned to love it (after many years) - and education has been extremely beneficial to me. It was a pathway out of a dire situation; a failing school, child of immigrant single mother, poverty. Academia has given me a good quality of life and I am very keen for my kids to achieve academically (not necessarly become academics). 'Puzzled' is a good way to describe how I feel. Ds is not dyslexic, and has good eyesight, hearing etc.. The 'not academic' comment actualy came from the head, in the context of a meetng where we were deciding whether to try the 11+. I think he is reasonably bright, or, could be reasonbly bright, but seems to find schoolwork somewhat difficult in places and therefore does everything possible to avoid it. He is a little bit lazy but not excessively so. He is loved and cherished for who he is but I can't deny that I want them both to achieve academically, if they can. Ds 2 is already known to family etc. as 'the clever one' while DS 1 isn't. I really feel for him but also really, really do want to pull him up to the other one's level. I just don't know how to help him.

Bonsoir Wed 21-Aug-13 21:40:01

I don't think, based on my observation of a reasonable sample of families at DD's very large and somewhat socially selective primary school, that siblings always perform in the same academic zone. I know plenty of families where there are siblings with very different skills and acid and levels of achievement.

Procrastinating Wed 21-Aug-13 21:59:21

That is interesting diyfan, I hope I can learn to love it (14 years service so far!). I come from an unstable and poor background too. I do appreciate what my job has done for my family but it costs me a lot of unhappiness. If you have any tips on learning to love it I would be very grateful.

My non-academic ds also avoids schoolwork that he sees as difficult, although it looks like laziness it is actually due to fear of failure with him. Confidence building stuff that is unrelated to schoolwork tends to help, I got him to start reading on holiday after he'd successfully conquered his fear of surfing. He has to do public speaking at school and I got him to do that by making sure he joined a club outside of school and enjoyed it (I secretly arranged for his best friend to be there). Anything that boosts his confidence in himself seems to boost his schoolwork. But this is just to keep him at 'average' rather than bottom of the class.

HamletsSister Wed 21-Aug-13 22:03:53

Are you certain your DS2 is not bright? I ask as it may be the opposite - he is very bright and bored. He might have switched off, lost interest as he is learning little at school. I am a teacher and, while many of us are hugely experienced, brilliant judges of character and ability, we do get it wrong.

Peachyjustpeachy Wed 21-Aug-13 22:07:22

I am one of 5 kids. My mum kept me off school EVERY Tuesday, when she got her family allowance, because she needed help with the shopping.

As an adult, I asked her why was it always me...Why not spread it about?
She shrugged and said... You were the cleverest, you could catch up.

I was the cleverest and I did overtaken them all, but my eldest sister sagged off at every opportunity, so why didn't she do the shopping with mum?

How academic is their father? I think that there is more likely to be a wider academic gap between children if their parents have different academic abilities/tendencies.

I think it may also be easier to have children with differing academic abilities if the older one is the more academic as having a more academic sibling snapping at your heels might not be fun. However this is a guess, rather than anything born of research or experience.

FrauMoose Wed 21-Aug-13 22:18:55

I am not at all sure why we want our children to be academically bright. (As opposed to fulfilling their potential in some other way.) Sometimes the education system seems like half-factory, half-confidence trick. The professions, which many aspirational parents, want their children to get into have their problems. I know a great many demoralised doctors, the drop-out rate at medical school is very high, teachers are stressed, a young intern at a major stockbrokers has dropped dead and it's being asked whether the long hours culture has contributed to his death.

I am wondering whether skilled tradespeople e.g plumbers, electricians have a better quality of life and more job satisfaction. My background and culture dictates that I should encourage my children to pass exams, then go to a well-regarded university so they can get 'a good job.' But I really do wonder...

LauraChant Wed 21-Aug-13 22:22:13

I have also always found academic work easy - I passed my 11 plus and my sisters didn't. I don't really know how they feel about that. They are both so lovely but I think my youngest sis in particular has some self esteem issues despite being incredibly creative. I think it took my parents a while to see it which is a shame.

This seems to be repeating with DS1 who is incredibly academic aged five, and DS2 who aged three is bright but not reading and doing sums like his brother was at that age (I know DS1 was very advanced). I think it is partly nurture, as DS1 got my full attention for two and a half years and was v demanding so got huge amounts of stories, singing, stimulation etc while DS2 had to fit in around other things. Also I think it is different ways of learning - DS1 is very visual like me and grasped letters and numbers and words by shape very quickly, whereas DS2 is auditory and can remember and recite poems and is good at saying what letter a word starts with. So I need to get my head round that way of learning.

FrauMoose Wed 21-Aug-13 22:29:31

Oh I meant demoralised lawyers, above. And my stepdaughter knew loads of disaffected people who really didn't enjoy university at all - one or two of them dropped out - but were just there because of their parents ambitions for them.

Which is perhaps leaping ahead of the original poster's question. But I wanted to raise the question of where this might end..

ProphetOfDoom Wed 21-Aug-13 22:39:05

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

diyfan Wed 21-Aug-13 22:44:04

Breatheslowly - father also has a PhD (although currently is not an academic). DS definitely not too bright. His father was like that, got easily bored in class until parents sent him to a private school to keep him out of trouble, where he flourished. He'd be able to spot this issue if it were the case (I think).
Procrastinating - I learned to love the job by getting better at it (took a very long time though). There are still aspects I dislike (like you, lecturing...the worst bit for me. A real struggle although as you describe, students wouldn't know it) but I feel that I 'grew' into the rest of it and now feel comfortable with it. Feel like I belong now. I also genuinely like my research area and feel passionate about it. Wasn't always so but as the years go by, I feel more 'au fait' with it all. 16 years into it so similar timescale to you.
My big confusion is the research that seems to show that siblings do not really differ in their IQ scores. That was my expectation. Also, this awareness that society rewards academic ability and he'll be left behind if he doesn't 'succeed' in this sphere. I think what I'm asking is how to best deal with my fear that he may not succeed academically (although I realise that it's not the end, but I've seen many people struggle in life without academic qualifications. I know that it's not always the case but this is my experience).

While research does show that siblings are likely to have similar IQ scores, there will still be a range of "similarity" and you probably have a slightly unusual set of siblings.

The only family I know who obviously have this is one where the parents don't seem to be similarly academic.

I think I would struggle a bit with a less academic child as I come from a fairly academic background and don't have a wide enough social sphere to know many successful non-academic people (I am sure there are loads out there). So, like you, I would be concerned and perhaps also don't really know the options for careers, using other skill sets etc.

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