Siblings Progressing at Different Rates


What would you do with this situation: The younger child (5) hears something once and never forgets it. He is progressing in phonics and reading 3 letter words. He is very ready to learn to read. The oldest child (6) is not ready. He has always been later to do things all the way back to feeding himself and potty training. He “wants” to read like the younger child, but is having tons of trouble just blending 2 letters. He knows all his letter sounds backward and forward, so to review those is not even really necessary. Do I just stop everything and try again in a few months. How would you explain this to him? I’ve tried explaining that reading is just a developmental stage like learning to walk, and when your ready it won’t be so hard . . . I’m afraid it makes him feel dumb. Any suggestions?


Ah, the unfairness of earth life! As parents, we dearly wish life would all be neat and tidy and older children would know more than younger, and the older daughter would marry first, and other wishes, but life just doesn’t seem to work out that way very often. I think you’ve done well with helping your son understand by comparing it to walking. The fact that your son is the eldest and male compounds the problem! We all have different talents and gifts and we don’t all have to excel in the same things. It’s essential to be able to read, of course, but if he isn’t a natural reader, it is okay. He can be good at different things.

I would really seek to find something that your older boy excels in, and even work to develop an interest that is not shared with the younger brother. Perhaps Dad and the eldest son could play catch, plant a garden, fix things around the household, or do something else to help him develop a talent. When he has a specialty, it will carry him over the times when he feels dumb, because you can say, “Well, little brother may be reading, but you are so very good at taking care of the chickens! I think you are excellent with animals.” He can learn to see himself as excelling in one area, even if he isn’t the most intelligent in comparison to his brother. We all have different strengths, thank goodness, and that makes for a very wonderful world.

Another help might be to read or tell him stories of some of the great men and women who were “slow bloomers” or who did not excel in school studies, but found their niche in other specialties. I am thinking of Einstein, who flunked out of school when he was 10. He was atrocious in math! Little did his teachers or parents or the world around him know that he couldn’t answer the problem of 4 x 5= 20 because he was busy pondering E=mc2. Another that comes to mind is the artist who painted the very famous painting we know as “Whistler’s Mother”. He was expelled from school, and ran up more demerits than any student in the history of West Point. He was never at the top of any subject except drawing. And yet, his famous painting of his mother is the most well known American painting. Annie Oakley was only 5 foot tall, fully grown, and was uneducated and could not read, but she could handle a rifle with more shooting accuracy than any other human being before her time, and probably since. In a famous event, while touring in Europe, the Crown Prince of Germany invited Annie to shoot the ashes off a cigarette held in his own lips, which she did with ease. Knowing the every person does not have to be good in reading or other school subjects may be a comfort to your son.

Now to the practical matter of what to do daily in school. First off, teach his younger brother as quickly as he wants to learn. Don’t hold him back a smidgen! Once he learns to read well. he may be able to teach your oldest son more effectively than you can, being closer to his age. I would seek to approach your older boy with a different reading program than you are using with your young one. It may be demoralizing to your oldest to repeat the lessons he has heard his younger brother learn months before. Look for a program that fits his learning style and go nice and slowly and be cautious to avoid comparisons. Read aloud to him daily. Get audio recordings of fun classic children’s books to listen to in the car or in his bed for 15 minutes before going to sleep, or whenever, so he comes to see reading as a very valuable skill to gain. Make an Reward Chart and post it where he can see it frequently, so that he can earn favors or treats or special time with parents by working on his phonics for 15 minutes intervals. Enable him to do this as frequently as he wants per day, earning rewards along the way. You want the whole business of reading to create a “good taste in his mouth”. If your younger son wants an Reward Chart too, select an area he could be challenged in—such as piano practice, keeping his room clean or obeying first time, for example. Then both boys can work towards success!

As with other parenting challenges, it often takes all of our best ideas, effort and inspiration!  Best success to you!


May I recommend:

My Child is Behind in School

Keep On Schedule or Let ‘Em Fly?

To Test or Not To Test?

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