How to value the unique qualities of each child.

The Differences

Despite having genes in common, differences between siblings are the rule, not the exception. As their children grow up, parents are often surprised to discover how different each child is from the others. And while diversity and differences may be a source of pride for parents, they may also generate confusion and frustration.

Differences between siblings can involve:

  • Temperament
  • Interests
  • Confidence
  • Resilience
  • Vulnerability
  • Social interactions
  • Sense of security
  • Achievement
  • Physical and mental health
  • Rate of physical and sexual maturation
  • Physical appearance

Nature vs. Nurture

Two major factors that influence your child's personality and other attributes are nature (genetic factors and heredity) and nurture (experience).


Children have only about a 50-50 chance of developing any particular inherited trait from each parent (physical appearance, personality, intelligence, aptitudes, or health). And even when these traits are present, they can vary.

Researchers have found that siblings tend to be more similar in their physical characteristics than in their likelihood of developing the same diseases. Even in childhood, siblings with similar levels of intelligence may differ in their school achievement, since academic success can be strongly affected by the different life experiences of each child.

While siblings may resemble one another in their intellectual or psychological characteristics early in life, these similarities generally diminish by adulthood.


Nurture (or experience) refers to the nongenetic influences on your child's development. They include:

  • Relationships with siblings, peers, parents, or teachers
  • Social and cultural experiences
  • Illnesses or accidents
  • Nutrition
  • Self-perception
  • Self-expectations

Siblings share some experiences but many others are unique, contributing to differences between children. As children grow, the number of experiences that they go through individually increases, gradually differentiating one sibling from another.

While shared experiences generally contribute toward similarities, even similar experiences may affect each child differently. Siblings can perceive and interpret shared events differently, and these different perceptions can be important in shaping a child's development and self-image.

Parenting Issues

Siblings are destined to be more different than alike. Differences in age, gender, intelligence level, or physical ailments require different parenting. For instance, older children should get certain privileges, in part due to the greater level of responsibility they are expected to assume in the household. Younger children need special consideration because they are less independent. A child with a learning disability may need extra time being read to or helped with homework.

But parents face a difficult juggling act in meeting the varying needs and expectations of their children without being accused of favoritism. If you learn how to listen to and observe your children, you will be more aware of their different perceptions and needs, and you'll be better able to respond successfully to each child and to the whole family.

As you watch your children grow up, remember that their similarities or differences are not as important as their overall development. Make an effort to accept and respect the basic uniqueness of each of your children. Kids need to feel loved, trusted, competent, and respected for who they are, not for who they are in comparison with their siblings.

Source: American Academy of Pediatrics

Originally published on, October 2001.

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.

American Baby