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.

diyfan Wed 21-Aug-13 23:12:28

Breatheslowly - this is part of my fear too; the fact that I may not be able to guide or advise him given that I really have no idea about pathways other than academic ones. Thank you to all for helping me to elucidate this. At the moment, I am banking on what Schmaltzing suggested; that he may find his niche later in life. However, I've been thinking this for a few years now, hoping to see a turnaround. He's average at best and I can see others sprinting away ahead. There's definitely a sense of being left behind. I really worry for him. Would tutoring be a solution? I'm not a fan and can't see much point if he's not that keen himself but is it likely to pull him up to above average?

I think that tutoring is only worth it if there is a deficiency in his existing teaching and it is in an area that builds on itself - so is essential to make progress. A deficiency in teaching is quite a hard thing to define as it could include a teacher not having enough time to spend focused on your DS or a teacher not being flexible enough to teach in a way that your DS "gets", not just having a poor teacher. If there are specific areas that he is weak in then it might be worth trying to get them ironed out. Particularly if they are things that are a focus in primary but not secondary (e.g. handwriting) or things that will hold him back.

You will probably know how he would respond to some tutoring. I loved being tutored when I was at school as I enjoyed the 1:1 attention, but I don't know what it is like to feel like you are struggling at something and then have to do even more of it.

Adikia Wed 21-Aug-13 23:37:38

Academic seems to mostly balance out with other skills tbh. I don't know that you need to worry about the difference between your kids so long as you don't make a big thing of it.

In my family the academic abilities vary greatly but none of us have ever been particularly bothered by it as our strengths are different.

-Big brother got mostly D's and C's at GCSE but is very practically minded and can make anything you ask him, he's now an electrician.
-I got B's at GCSE, and am fairly good at painting and sewing but struggle to even build things with DDs lego. I am doing well at uni, having discovered my academic skills lie in subjects we didn't do at school.
-15 year old sister took 3 GCSE's early and got A*s and got As for her mock GCSEs, she is fluent in Japanese (whilst the rest of us can't even do basic french) and writes brilliant stories, not great with art or building stuff though.
-13 year old brother is top of his class at grammar school, has an incredible understanding of science and is very musical.
-10 year old brother is in top set for everything and is bright but not massively ahead of his friends, he is however very good at sport which none of the rest of the family are.
-9 year old sister gets glowing reports and has decided this summer she wants to be an archaeologist, she's spent most of the summer drawing diagrams of dinosaur bones and different things she has found in her imaginary dig site and researched each piece, she is set to be smarter than all of us.

I would like to point out though that 15 year old sister and I are both dyslexic so I don't think not academic and dyslexic are the same thing.

monkey42 Wed 21-Aug-13 23:50:28

I agree with maany points as above as follows:
1. It is possible to have huge variation in academic ability in one family - my own for a start. (big bro left school aged 16 with a few (hard won) o levels, i went to oxbridge)
2. This difference does not necessarily translate to success in life. Big bro is happily married nearly 25 years from a young age with huge success at work (he's a great bloke, funny, popular, organised). I slogged my guts out, and still do, in a high stress career. I often wonder who got the better deal

so just encourage them to be who they are and do their best but don't expect them to be the same or write them off if they are not

MiaowTheCat Thu 22-Aug-13 07:16:14

In my own case - me - very very bright, bone idle... brother - less bright (but still higher end of the ability spectrum), really dedicated.

I got by by the bare minimum and a photographic memory - he worked really hard - similar results in the end (mine were slightly better)

OverTheFieldsAndFarAway Thu 22-Aug-13 07:34:35

Monkey 42, brilliantly said.
OP, your children are two very different people with different strengths and weaknesses. Stop comparing them, it won't do you or them any good.

ProphetOfDoom Thu 22-Aug-13 08:09:47

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

diyfan Thu 22-Aug-13 08:56:12

Some great points here. Thanks everyone. I have a fear of 'academic failure' because of my own background. My husband and I are now living a life beyond our wildest dreams (we thank our lucky stars every day) and it is all entirely due to academic success and education (his too, as well as mine). As I've mentioned upthread, I have become happier with greater academic success (even though this has taken years, years and then more years to achieve). I am not implying that I am wildly successful in academia itself - I am fairly mediocre wrt that - but nevertheless, even this mediocrity has brought so much happiness, fulfillment, enjoyment and treasuring of life (I don't think that I would have developed as a person in this way if not for academia) that I never thought possible. As you can imagine, I am VERY keen for my children to achieve academically as I simply can't imgine living this well (and I don't mean just financially) without it. I have seen these developments in my students, and also see every day various extended family members struggle in various ways when not backed by academic qualifications. Life just seems so much harder that way. Logically, I can see that people achieve happiness and success without havng stellar academic qualifications, but in general, I have seen more people struggle without them than with. I do realise though that the children are going to be what they want to be, but I am a great believer in the power of education and don't want my child to miss out.

FrauMoose Thu 22-Aug-13 09:07:31

Firstly, I think the expansion in higher education - and also an expectation that people now get not just one degree but further academic qualifications - mean that a degree does not now open doors in quite the way it used to. Certainly many of my stepdaughter's graduate friends have ended up taking modestly paid jobs with no obvious career development because it was all they could get.

The world has changed - and is continuing to change - hugely.

Secondly, my feeling is that for my stepdaughter who was a 'gradual' developer, coaching for the 11+ was quite harmful. She laboured under an initial sense of failure when not offered a place. It was much better for her ultimately to be in the abler group in a comprehensive school, than it would have been to be constantly struggling to keep up with children who got things a bit faster than she did. With my own daughter, I only went forward with an application for a selective school because she personally identified as one that she wanted to go to. Selective schools can also be quite vicious and 'weed out' students who don;t get high grades, rather than letting them progress to the sixth form. Again this may be de-motivating for young people.

diyfan Thu 22-Aug-13 09:59:04

This is it Frau. It's a global market now. For example, whenever a lectureship is advertised, they have applicants from all over the world and not just from this country (not even a Russell Group uni.). Huge numbers for each post. It must be the same in other jobs too. It's so, so tough now. By the same token, we are, of course, all different and variously inclined toward academia, the arts, music, sport etc.. One of my struggles with all of this is to know how much to push and how much to leave well alone. Nature or nurture? The non-academic DS has never shown any signs of enjoying academia (slow to read and talk, little aptitude for numbers, not particularly observant or interested in the world around him when toddler), which makes me think that he's destined for something else (and we've just got to find it). On the other hand, he shows himself to be reasonably bright on occasion because he can do quite hard maths (very sporadically and unpredictably-def not ASD). In all honesty, I really want to pull hm up as far as he'll go, but at what expense to him and us?

Fraxinus Thu 22-Aug-13 10:21:35

Hi, I don't think you mention what age your children are?

Some children don't 'get' school until quite late... I was a bright kid but didn't understand that you actually had to do your homework for ages!

It seems you have identified the source of your anxiety about academic achievement... I would recommend thinking about what your priorities are for your children, and what their priorities might be as they grow up.

For you, growing up the main priority was possibly financial security and possibly some status. For children growing up in a financially secure family, perhaps the priorities are slightly different.

You have an example of someone who went into academia and is unhappy with it on this thread... I imagine you would not want this for your academic or less academic children.

Good luck helping your sons to find activities that they enjoy, be it for their careers later, or hobbies which make an unsatisfactory working life more bearable.

S4Worries Thu 22-Aug-13 10:46:59

From looking at my large extended family I don't think it is at all unusual for family members to vary in how they present in a school environment.

We have a real mix academically but most of us have done well in life because we share other characteristics such as being conscientious, emotionally on an even keel and being a bit dull to be honest! Maybe we also have reasonable IQ scores, who knows? I think there are some of us who might be mildly dyslexic.

I have one child who is a real eager learner, praised to the skies by well-meaning teachers and one who has struggled in primary. I don't worry too much about the less academic one (who is able in a lot of ways) it's just that there probably won't be the option of "elite" university courses.

FrauMoose Thu 22-Aug-13 10:57:11

Something's been nagging at me, and I've now remembered.

An old schoolfriend of mine and her husband had two very different children. Both friend and husband went to a 'top' UK university. My friend went on to do a PhD and both work in the field of education. They have a son and a daughter. The son was quite literally their blue-eyed boy. He was a very bright, bookish kid and everything they wanted thir child to be. Their daughter was also a lovely person but not someone who was ever the top of the class. In some families her lively, kind personality, her energy and her interests would all have been highly regarded. My friend and her husband were however fixated on her lower marks, and the fact she wasn't like their firstborn.

Their obsession with their son's intelligence and education, and the way in which they made their daughter into a problem both grated on me to the extent that I rather let the friendship drop.

Last time when I contacted my old friend I found that their son - who had intially gone to the same university as his parents - had had a major breakdown, and had just begun his studies from scratch at a different, new university following two years of severe depression spent at home.

My friend told me that 'they'd managed to get (name of daughter) in' to an IT-based degreeat another new university. My sense is that their daughter would probably end up doing fine, though I still feel she has had a raw deal and deserved parents who were a lot more proud of her.

Cheryzan Thu 22-Aug-13 11:49:28

To me it sounds absolutely like you are describing a child with dyslexia.

Slow to talk
Slow to read

How slow?

What makes you think he doesn't have it?

The number of children who get diagnosed with dyslexia in their teens are staggering.

The new term for dyslexia is SpLD - specific learning difficulty. Because it encompasses far more than reading and writing.

If his academic achievement is a long way of what you would expect the most likely explanation is SpLD.

cory Thu 22-Aug-13 17:29:43

No stranger really than the fact that one sibling may be highly musical and another tone deaf (pretty well the case in my family).

Looking at my children: one blond and blue-eyed and the other brown-eyed and olive skinned, I don't really find it odd that they should also differ in other respects: the family tree is clearly a very mixed concoction.

In fact, dd has always been in top set and ds hovering near the bottom set. Dd very good reader, dd very late. But ds has other strengths and I'm not particularly worrying about it.

I have a PhD, my db went to agricultural college and then started out on a manual job. We have both found what we wanted to do in life.

lljkk Thu 22-Aug-13 18:09:23

There's no global market for electricians. confused
(Saying that because all the electricians I know are raking it in, putting the lecturers to shame!)

Lots of successful ways thru life, focusing on narrow definition of success & closely comparing your kids closely : not good.

breadandbutterfly Thu 22-Aug-13 21:09:41

My dd2 is slightly less (obviously) academic than her desperately academic older sister. And I think has mild dyslexia. But it's probably dd1 that I worry about - because dd2 has amazing people skills, maturity etc and is far more obviously likely to succeed in lots of conventional ways. dd1 has amazing potential but the challenge is how to use it.

I really wouldn't worry about siblings with different abilities - I do totally agree with previous comments that (a) everyone has different abilities - in non-academic subjects and social skills etc (EQ as well as IQ important) as well as abilities in academic subjects and (b) that everyone develops at different rates, so your 'less bright' dc may well catch up and overtake your other dc in due course.

In my family, 3 of us siblings were highly academically successful, and went to Oxbridge - one sibling failed A levels and didn't take a degree till his 40s after working his way up through his career (accountancy). He now outearns all his Oxbridge-educated siblings AND was the only one of us to get a first!

So your less-academic dc will almost certainly make his mark in due course. Just try to make sure he feels happy and confident and is unaware of your 'disappointment'. Not because it will stop him being successful, but because he might as well be happy!

Bonsoir Thu 22-Aug-13 21:15:20

I agree with posters who say that academic prowess and success is no guarantee of a happy and successful life. All sorts of jobs and lives bring satisfaction. I'm not sure that academia is necessarily very useful when it comes to entrepreneurial skills, which are those I personally admire and value most highly.

diyfan Thu 22-Aug-13 21:27:29

Thank you to everyone for your time and responses. There are some great comments here. I really want to reiterate that I do not feel 'disappointed' in my less academic child. He is a lovely, beautiful and special boy and I am very lucky to have him. My issue is more to do with the fact that i know from first hand experience how much happiness academic success has brought to my life and I desperately want the same for him, for his sake, not for mine. If I could foresee the future and saw him to be a happy, rounded and responsible individual in his chosen sphere, then I would happily leave well alone! Lots to ponder here so thank you to all.

exoticfruits Thu 22-Aug-13 21:37:40

Mine are very different academically - it as never been a problem because there are so many more strengths and talents than just academic ones.

cakebar Thu 22-Aug-13 22:04:58

What an interesting thread. I think people are such complicated creatures that you can get very different siblings. I have been very successful academically but it is because I am good at understanding what is required, have a good memory and am hardworking. I am not gifted at any particular subject. My husband is gifted in sciences and maths but mediocre at other subjects and has a tendency to miss the point. We knew our combination could result in super genius children or ones that were way more average. We have ended up with a variety of children - dc2 on paper is very average, dc1 excelling. However dc2 has an excellent memory when she tries and is bloody minded, if she decides she is going to do well I think she will, (dc3 too young to tell). All in all I don't think it is odd to have siblings doing very differently.

FWIW my dh is one of 5, vastly different academic results but I wouldn't be surprised if similar IQ but oddly all raised in slightly different circumstances.

ArtemisFowl Thu 22-Aug-13 23:16:30

Different ability or different learning style? I was the not academic one and a bit thick, I remember asking my Mum what remedial meant cos those were the classes I was being put in! I've now the most highly educated of my family. I just didn't learn well the way they wanted to teach me. School is a one size fits most approach and many bright and not so bright pupils are let down.

I'm a very slow learner and it takes me a while to master the basics, however once the basics are covered I learn very very fast. For example when I decided that I wasn't going to be written off and was going to get an education it took weeks to get my head round very basic maths. Yet I then mastered much more complex areas with no problem. It happens with whatever I try and learn, we are not all the same and don't all learn in the same fashion.

tricot39 Thu 22-Aug-13 23:27:46

my dh has turned out to be the most "academic"compared to.his 3 brothers. He is youngest and has ended up self employed with above average earnings. The middle brother left school with few qualifications to become a bricklayer now a contravts manager who did an mba. The eldest is "lazy" but isa self employed plumber who earns over 100k pa easily. As others have said success comes in many forms.

burberryqueen Thu 22-Aug-13 23:39:16

i don't know about the value of 'academic' tbh. with my b/g twins one of whom was starved of oxygen and ended up in 'special ed' at secondary (yes they still call it that) but has a far higher EQ, has caught up with her reading age and beyond, and already has a career plan involving an apprenticeship.
the 'academic' one on the other hand has acted like a pillock and ended up in a PRU, will be lucky to get 4 gcses.

BabiesAreLikeBuses Thu 22-Aug-13 23:40:27

Back to the tutoring question, it depends on age and interests - i once tutored a boy who was academically struggling with a very academic older sister. He was 8 or 9 when i started, a reluctant reader who hated writing. So his mum amd teachers said. He had had a boring year at school which had switched him off and also couldn't handle his mum's anxiety. It was hard work at first, until i discovered that he loved history and that he preferred emotionally deeper stories, so hated 'Horrid Henry' as it was puerile but loved Morpurgo stories. He liked the one to one attention away from parental pressure and came to ask lots of questions about spelling rules, grammar, punctuation, things he'd not felt comfortable askin in school. After 6 months school called mum in amazed as he'd made a year's progress, become a keen reader and an expressive writer - he'd had the ideas and vocab all along. In a year he went up 5 sublevels, got level 5s at ks2 and last i heard was on course for great gcses. I didn't do anything amazing, but one-to-one gave him his confidence and enthusiasm, i wasn't following national curriculum units, just his interests.

My parents value academic success highly and pulled their hair out with their youngest - my brother- a reluctant reader and writer who didn't really try until he got to 15. Guess who is the highest earner now? I think the problem was that they didn't know how to guide the one who didn't fit with their expectations - but in the end he worked it out for himself and studied when he was interested and needed to.

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