All children progress through the stages of childhood development at different rates. Some learn to walk at 8 months while others may not figure out how to place one foot in front of the other until 16 months.
But…what happens when a younger sibling progresses faster than her older brother?
Should you withhold a skill from that little sister to prevent discouraging the older brother? Or, should you turn it into a bit of positive motivation?
I’m not referring to early skills like crawling or walking here. I’m not even referring to things like shoe tying or cutting with scissors. I’m talking about rites of passage of childhood. Riding a bike. Swimming. Pumping a swing. Riding a scooter.
Recently, I encountered a situation that made me think about this.
Sibling Competition and Child Development
I overheard a mom talking about her kids (a little girl, 5 years old and a little boy, 7 years old). They had recently moved into a new neighborhood with wide eyes. Kids were literally everywhere, running free outside and doing the things this family never imagined letting their kids do on their own.
Scooters were zipping up and down the sidewalks and kids were climb up the slides in backyards (gasp!). Hardly any of the kids used training wheels on their bikes, as even the youngest kiddos in the ‘hood had figured out how to balance and keep up with the older crowd.
This woman’s little girl was desperate to keep up with the other kids, asking her parents again and again to take her training wheels off her bike. But, alas, her 7-year-old brother wasn’t quite ready to tackle that skill. He didn’t have the confidence, or the desire, to leave that stable 4-wheeled base of support. So, the parents refused to take the training wheels off the little sister’s bike, even though she seemed ready.
The mom said, “I don’t want to hurt his feelings. Imagine how he will feel if his baby sister is riding and he can’t? When he is ready, he will do it and then she can try.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. Really? Depriving this little girl the experience of keeping up with the gang, testing her ability, and forgoing her fears – just to keep from hurting her brother’s feelings?
I couldn’t disagree more with this approach. I think a little sibling competition can be healthy! According to Dr. Jonathan Caspi, “Sibling competition increases skill sets and is an ingredient of shared sibling success.”
Maybe that push of seeing the right little person whiz by on her two wheeler was just what this 7-year-old boy needed! I am willing to put money on it that once little sister took off with the group of kids, pedaling as fast and free as a bird, big brother wouldn’t be too far behind!
How can siblings promote childhood development?
How can you encourage siblings to promote childhood development for one another rather than hinder it?
1 || Cooperation
What about having one sibling actively teach or “train” the other in a skill he has already mastered? Cooperation between siblings has been found by some researchers to enhance the development of skills. Framing the situation as cooperation rather than competition may take the pressure off and add to the fun!
2 || Modeling
As I described in the story above – for some kids, all it takes is seeing another child performing a skill in order to get out there and try it for himself! And, interestingly, modeling a skill benefits not only the child who is working on developing the skill, but also the child who is serving as the model. Children who are able to model behaviors are able to demonstrate a heightened level of ability in those skills.
3 || Celebrating each other’s strengths
We think it’s important to stay away from using labels and blanket statements to describe kids’ skills (e.g. one child is “the sporty one” while another is “the smart one”). But it’s okay for kids to find their own unique areas to shine! Pointing out that everyone in the family is good at something different and that siblings can share these strengths and cheer each other on is a great way to promote healthy childhood development.
4 || Allow for uninterrupted play. Most often, sibling sets teach and learn from one another without our help – especially when they’re given lots of time to play and interact without the grownups butting in!
Do you notice your children interacting in ways that enhance development? We’d love to hear about it! Leave us a comment below!
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