Tuesday Topic: How Do you Cope with Developmental Gaps Between Siblings?

Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail

Today’s Tuesday Topic comes for Cindy, who asks a question that many of us grapple with (I know we do). How do we parent children with different levels of ability – not shaming or discouraging one, while also not holding other children back?

We have two bio kids ages 9 (girl) and 12 (boy), plus a foster kid aged 10 (boy) in between the other two that we have had in our home for over two years and are in the process of adopting. The bio kids are in advanced classes at school, catch on quickly, and are determined to work hard and succeed. Our middle child, however, struggles greatly with executive functioning and becomes easily overwhelmed even if something “seems” too hard for him or if it includes hard work of any kind. He has trouble with cause and effect and learning from natural consequences, but is far more capable than he believes and since he responds by far the best to positive reinforcement we practice it regularly to fill his bucket and show our love and care. There is always competition between the younger two – the youngest is just competitive and wants to succeed, while the middle one feels incapable and unlovable and gives up too quickly.

The gap between them is growing, and I would love to hear your thoughts on how to parent these kids that are in such different places emotionally, socially, etc. How do we allow the younger one do things the middle one isn’t ready for yet so as not to hold the younger one back but not make the middle one feel less capable. How much do we protect the middle one from things he’s not ready for yet versus letting him fall harder so as to learn through these experiences now before he gets to an age where we can’t be there with him as much. And what kind of resources are there for us to work with him to develop stronger executive functioning skills this summer as we work toward preparing him for middle school?

This is a very good question – from decisions about education, to when a child gets a driver’s license, how do we navigate their differences? They may even be the same age, but not able to have the same privileges and responsibilities.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this, or feel free to say that you don’t know the answer either, but you understand. Let’s encourage Cindy and see what we can brainstorm on this topic.

Take a moment to leave a comment; we want to hear from you.

Encourage one another,


This post may contain Amazon Affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Let me introduce myself. Russ and I are the parents of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. I'm the creator of One Thankful Mom which has been as much of a gift to me as to my readers. In 2011 I became a TBRI® Pracitioner* and have lived and breathed connected parenting ever since. I'm deeply honored to be the co-author, together with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, of The Connected Parent; it is her final written work. I love speaking at events for adoptive and foster parents. I'm also the co-founder of The Adoption Connection, a podcast and resource site for adoptive moms. I mentor and encourage adoptive moms so you can find courage and hope in your journeys of loving your children well.


  1. Jerusha
    May 20, 2014

    I have had this same struggle. One of my bio daughters and my adopted son–who has similar challenges to Cindy's child–are 9 months apart (so currently they are both four) but seem two years apart in functioning, cognitively, emotionally, etc. I guess the good thing is that for now, our adopted son doesn't really process or care that he is the same age as his sister….or, he pretends not to care. I do wonder how this will look when they are a few years older. No advice here, but I do understand. 🙂

  2. Gwen
    May 20, 2014

    Oh, wow. I can't wait to hear some ideas about this! Our 8 year old is miles ahead of our nearly-11 year old, cognitively and socially. It's very, very difficult to navigate and as they grow older, it's becoming even more challenging. When added to the fact that the next child up (at 14 years) is a very gifted student, it seems like my almost-11 child is doomed to fail. I'm looking forward to hearing some ideas about how to handle this.

  3. Gwen
    May 20, 2014

    I'm wondering if putting my kids in separate schools might take some of the emotional pressure off. If they're in completely different settings, with different award structures, etc, perhaps it would be easier. Just an idea that we're going to consider for next school year.

  4. Nicole Schmidt
    May 20, 2014

    Our family is struggling with the same issues, and I am at a loss. Looking forward to hearing how others are coping with this.

  5. Leslie Porter
    May 20, 2014

    I have daughters three months apart. One is more coordinated and quicker to learn. The daughter that has a harder time has always showed an apptitude for swimming. My husband and I decided to make that a time and financial priority. She swims year round and is the acknowledged best swimmer in our family. It gives her confidence and friends. Also I started home schooling them and put them in different math curriculum to avoid competition.

  6. Jodi
    May 20, 2014

    We have a 16 year old who is developmentally closer to an 8-9 year old. She is the middle child, but her younger sister (who is 13) has passed far surpassed her abilities in every domain. Our 10 year old son has recently passed her in nearly every domain. From our experience, the hardest time is/was just after the developmental "passing" – when the younger sibling first starts getting "privileges" that the older one is simply not ready for. Within a few months (5-7), it just became the "norm" and was better accepted, but during those initial months we heard lots of "You are making her older than me" and dealt with a lot of anger that the older one did not get to do things that the younger sibling did. We just kept talking about how everyone was different and were ready for things at different times; we also talked a lot about how privileges= responsibility and that with more privileges came more responsibility (for that other sibling) and to earn privileges you had to show responsibility (especially in safety areas, for example our daughter does not reliably look when crossing the street and so can not safely handle the "privilege" of riding her bike on the road though her younger sister is able to). It seemed to help our daughter when we could specifically tell her what she needed to do in order to earn certain privileges that she wanted. Realistically, she really was not able to do what she needed too (like regularly checking for traffic) or she would've already been allowed to do those things, but just knowing there were "concrete" standards seemed to help her see that we really were concerned about her safety and wanted to work with her in gaining these things.
    Another thing that is important is to find something unique that that child can do. Our daughter loves to do crafts. She cannot make anything fancy, but can crochet hot pads and dishcloths. Her younger siblings have no interest in this so it is something that is uniquely hers. She has also done therapeutic horseback riding that the others would've loved to do, but didn't get too. So they all have things that the others don't have.
    I don't think the process of a younger passing the older is every going to be pain free for anyone involved. We just tried to let everyone grow at the rate they were ready for – and that just means it looks different for kids with different abilities. (And as your kids get into their teens, having to truly accept their own disabilities and limitations, and learn to work with them and around them is part of "life"…but that is a completely different topic!)

  7. Melissa Dunn Corkum
    May 21, 2014

    We really struggle with this too. We adopted three teens older than the three kids who were already in our house. Our 8 and 11 year olds are far more mature and better critical thinkers than our 13, 15, and 16 year olds. We try to ditch determinations based on age and focus on skills and experience. Tae Kwon Do has helped this too because there, everyone starts at a white belt…adults and kids. You gain belts (and privileges) by showing mastery in specific skills. Age doesn't matter. There is also no shame in TKD for being an adult white belt because everyone understands you just don't have experience yet. Also, in TKD EVERYONE practices all their cumulative skills. So black belts practice white belt skills as a discipline and to show there's always room for improvement. We try to implement a parallel analogy at home when older kids are frustrated about younger kids being ahead. Showing the older kids tangible progress they've made and using EMDR during therapy has also helped.

  8. Rachel
    May 22, 2014

    Hi… we had/have this issue in our family as well… my older sister (by 19 months) is developmentally delayed and I surpassed her very quickly… I have to admire my parents however… despite my ability to do more, have more responsibility than her — they were very careful to emphasize that her is the oldest and should get certain privileges first… and included her in age-correct activities — for example — our church has a youth camp that you must be 16 to attend — rather than make her wait a year so we could go together — they sent her the year she could go — even though developmental age was not 16 — with proper communication with the youth leaders — she had a blast… I was super disappointed that she could go but not me… because my friends were there not hers… the next year though I was able to go with her… my parents were smart not to make her wait because that validated her as the oldest. For her driver's license — when she wanted to go — they helped her study for the test and when she passed she got her beginners permit (3 attempts)… she never passed her beginners permit to a full license (usually 8-12 months) and she renewed her beginners permit 3 times (total of 10 years) before she was able to accept that she would not ever drive on her own…. my parents knew this from the start but sometimes it seems easier to want to protect her from disappointment by explaining that she is not ready — and sometimes it is easier to let her try and discover that on her own — keeping in mind always her safety… she is now 35 years old and still has a VERY hard time accepting that she will never gain certain privileges (driver's license, job, marriage, children)… as more and more of my siblings pass her in ability (there are 11 of us all biological) she continues to find this difficult… it has not been a process of 5-7 months and then acceptance… it is hard on everyone all the way around. At times there is still anger.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

I accept the Privacy Policy