Sibling in the Spotlight

Treating kids fairly is tough enough, but when one stands out, it can truly be a challenge. We'll help you give everyone the attention they deserve.
child in the spotlight

Brian Maranan Pineda

While other 4-year-olds were learning their ABCs, Nathan Reynolds was already penning stories. At age 6, he tested at a seventh-grade level in math and reading. Though his parents, Tony and Karen, are delighted by their son's precociousness, it hasn't been without challenges. Between time-consuming intelligence testing and the fraught decision to skip him ahead in school, managing Nathan's supercharged intellect has placed serious demands on the Columbus, Ohio, couple. What's more, they're constantly concerned about keeping Nathan's siblings from feeling jealous of the attention he gets. "His brother sometimes gripes, 'Nathan is the smart one,'" Tony says.

Whether you have a star who steals the limelight with musical talent or athletic abilities, or a child with behavior or health issues who requires extra care, brothers and sisters can end up feeling slighted. "All kids need to feel acknowledged and validated by their parents. But when one child demands more of your time and energy, it's even more crucial to make sure your other kids know they're valued," says psychotherapist Fran Walfish, Psy.D., author of The Self-Aware Parent. Fortunately, just recognizing that need for attention is the first step toward maintaining a balanced household. Learn how to make sure everyone in your family feels loved and appreciated.

Focus on the Positive
Shortly after Nell Buchman, of Waupaca, Wisconsin, found out that her son, Philip, then 8, would need to undergo major surgery to remove a growth from his ear, she began to notice a change in her daughter, Charlotte, who was 5 at the time. "She began having the kind of tantrums she had as a toddler," Buchman says.

Charlotte's reaction isn't unusual. Young kids don't always distinguish between good and bad attention; if you're preoccupied with a sibling, your child may find that the easiest way to get your eye is to act out. How to deal? "Concentrate on catching your child being good and try to respond to misbehavior with a neutral voice," says Abigail Davenport Verre, a board-certified behavior analyst in Westford, Massachusetts. "She probably knows what she''s doing is wrong. Spending a lot of time reprimanding her only reinforces that this gets you to focus on her." For example, if she makes it through her brother's cello recital drama-free, applaud her own good performance by saying, "I'm impressed with how patient you were at the concert today. As a treat, you can pick the movie we all watch tonight." Not only will this reinforce the appropriate behavior, it reminds your kid that she's got a voice within the family too.

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