Are you sure they are related?

Talking to parents, the length and breadth of the country, one conundrum so many of us are facing is the difference in progression between siblings. We’ve lost count of the number of times a parent will say we aren’t worried about child X, he just sits down and does his homework no issues at all. Whereas child Y it’s like she has different parents; finds every excuse under the sun and it’s so stressful. I’m sure that rings a bell with many of you.

As a mother of three, we are also in the same situation and unfortunately mine are mostly like child Y! Over lockdown, in my husband’s strategy version #326 to try to get the children to home-school (remember children don’t listen to teacher parents) we decided an approach whereby they could help each other with their work, acting in a mentor type role. He’d been inspired by the Curran brothers who he had read pushed each other to new heights in their garden, a path that eventually led to these Surrey brothers representing England at cricket. Unfortunately, as World War III broke out, we agreed it was back to the drawing board, instead of pushing each other to new heights of academia, we realised it became just another game of one-upmanship between the sisters.

Before writing this article, I took some time to research educational achievement within a family environment. Aside from genetics alone are there more to the differences we see ? There is, of course, reams of literature on this subject and I found it fascinating. One thing that does seem to be consistent is that first born children tend to do better than their younger siblings. All sorts of theories are attributed to this, but one that interested me was how parental time could influence success; the premise being that a first born would often have a few years of sole attention that could fast track their educational attainment, whereas this was reduced as more children were added to the mix. By the time the youngest had their moment in the sun (once the elder children had fled the nest) the impact was lessened given their age and stage of development.

Another theory surrounds attitude to educational attainment. As teachers and parents alike will testify, teaching a motivated student is so much easier. Unfortunately for the younger siblings, they too seem to suffer in this example, often showing far less enthusiasm particularly in their younger years than their older siblings. Again, the rationale behind this is diverse but the Darwinian theory struck a chord – the summary being that older siblings get to choose first their niche in the family and of course they choose the one most likely to lead them to succeed.

Phew! Is this the time for yet more Mummy guilt? Rationally, the answer is a resounding no. The studies reveal commonality across generations and cultures and so none of us are alone in this phenomenon – in reality the answers to attainment in education are complex and involve so much more than sibling order only.

My advice to parents who are concerned about one of their children not doing as well as another is the same as it would be to a parent with one child. And that is to treat every child individually and look holistically at their progress. Not necessarily advocating the tiger parent approach but sleep, nutrition, exercise, friendships and the dreaded screen time all can play a part, so putting in place rules and strategies to address any concerns should be based on the individual child and not necessarily a one size fits all approach . One of the remarkable things about being a parent is seeing our children’s individual personalities appear and to me this is something we should celebrate.

We hope you enjoyed the article, do google “sibling educational achievement” as there is lots of interesting information out there!