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Gifted Sibling Comparison

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D

Q: I have two boys, ages 6 and 2. The 6-year old was identified as highly gifted (profoundly gifted in math) a couple of years ago. Ever since he was born, he has exhibited quite a few classic signs of being EXTREMELY smart and well-developed. Here's my question; since my 6-year old was my first, I don't think I'm accurately assessing the skills or abilities of my 2 year old. He's definitely not the same kid, and doesn't excel in the same areas, but has his own talents. How do I know whether he is just kind of bright but pretty average, or actually gifted? I cannot help but use my 6 year old as a comparison, but that's not only inaccurate, it's unfair to both of them.

My 2 year old (26 months) has been putting together 5 word sentences since he was about 19 or 20 months. He knows how to do things after seeing them only once, and automatically identifies the purpose of an object without ever seeing it before (example: my husband bought a set of nut drivers, and my toddler picked them up, and walked around the house "fixing" everything by attempting to turn bolts with them). He understands the relationships between things without ever having them explained. He can build a tower of blocks 12 tall -- he instinctively knows when to counter-balance, even.

He understands concepts of time, and can control himself very well for a 2 year old (I tell him he can't have, say, a box of raisins from the store until after we go up and pay for them, and then get out to the car. He thinks about it, debating if that's OK with him, and then will say "OK" and actually wait until the agreed-upon time to ask for them again). The kid just UNDERSTANDS things. He knows a bunch of songs by heart, and sings them to himself quietly to entertain himself. He has a very long attention span when he's interested.

However, he does not know his alphabet, and shows really no signs of progress on it. Still only knows a couple colors. No numbers at all. He is not at all interested in reading the words in a book (we read to him all the time), but instead wants to identify pictures. He knows, for instance, that he has to go to the last page to see the character he's looking for (keep in mind the kid has like 30 books and purposely does NOT have "favorites"), but he has no idea whatsoever what the story is about. I'm not sure what to think -- he's not doing any of the advanced things my older son did.

Does he sound gifted to you, or just kind of bright?

A: Having a profoundly gifted child can be the source of a great deal of parental pride, but parents must exercise caution when dealing with less bright siblings. While growing, if one child is always in the limelight, there are somewhat tendencies for the other to be in the shade. Every child is different from the other, even in the same family, and even if they were twins. Children develop very differently in terms of pace and this is very natural.

I am glad that you realized that it is unfair to compare the boys. And as you have mentioned yourself, your 2 year old is talented in different areas. These are skills that need to be strengthened and focused on not the weaknesses especially in comparison with your older son.

A known and rather common heuristic for diagnosing gifted children is that younger siblings of a gifted child are often gifted. This is especially true for siblings who have a big age gap from their older sibling, and even more so for the youngest child in such a family. They would naturally tend to admire their older siblings and in most cases, try to imitate them and set them as models. In a case when two siblings are in competition, it is important to help the younger sibling look for a field of interest which is not already "taken" or "booked" by the older sibling, which gives identity to the younger sibling. This would allow him to excel in that particular field at his own pace without being compared to his older sibling.

Do not worry too much about his alphabetical or even color recognition skills as he will eventually learn when he is ready. Some children learn other things faster. Keep up with the reading but do not force him to read as this may kill his interest. He may be more of a visual learner. Try taking him to a bookstore and get him to identify his own books of interest, and perhaps get them for him (even if it may not be your idea of a suitable book). Another good way is to indirectly expose him to a reading family. When he sees his older sibling and parents constantly reading books, he may be curious. And he may well start being interest in books as he wants to quench his curiosity. It is crucial that he finds meaning in his activities.

Above all that, without realizing, you are indeed comparing him with his brother. He is very young and perhaps your expectations are rather high. Being gifted or bright are just labels we use. You need to be convinced in your own mind that each of your son's qualities are equally special in their own right, even if one may look ordinary in comparison. Otherwise, you will be short-changing them. Learning is not about absorbing information as early as one can but more about finding meaning and enjoyment in learning activities.


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