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Daditude: Talent vs. Determination

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When it comes to sibling rivalry, competitiveness may trump a child’s actual interest in pursuing a hobby or activity.
Daditude: Talent vs. Determination

For my younger daughter, competition with her big sister seems like it’s her driving force.

My oldest daughter dazzles us with the handstands, flips, and other gymnastics moves she seems engaged in every minute of every day. Her body clearly made for this, she combines a seemingly superhuman limberness and an exquisite lightness of foot with years of practice and her fair share of injuries—all, thankfully, minor. Gymnastics has become a central part of her life and her biggest passion.

My middle daughter, four years younger, works very hard at gymnastics. That’s not to say she’s bad at it. She takes lessons, is dedicated, and shows a determination I didn’t know she was able to summon. For someone who generally melts into tears at the slightest scrape, she’s endured her share of hard landings and weirdly twisted limbs without making a big deal of them. However, she lacks the level of natural talent and a made-for-this-sport body that makes the flips and landings look easy.

Yet she plugs away at it, trying to do all her big sister does. I know this is not a competition—they do gymnastics for fun and exercise—but I make the comparison because for my younger one, competition with big sister seems like it’s her driving force. She pushes herself, not with any particular joy, it seems to me, but out of a sense of needing to follow and emulate, perhaps even feeling obligated to do so. She seems to have something to prove.

Our middle child is talented, as all children are, in a million of her own ways. If there’s any regret I have in her pursuit of big sister’s gymnastics glory, it’s that it’s taking away from the time and focus she could spend pursuing activities that might be more in line with her own personal passions and talents—STEM, chess, music, ice-skating, swimming, and other things she’s shown aptitude and interest in. But she must come to this realization on her own. Or not.

It’s not all problematic, of course. She’s getting exercise, and there’s immense value in the dedication and resilience she shows on the gymnastics mat. I cannot, and would not, try to micromanage her extracurricular activities, even as I sometimes fear she might hurt herself more seriously as she pushes herself to try ever more difficult moves.

Competition, especially with our siblings, is a powerful driving force in our lives. When I was a kid, my brother took up the guitar and it became a central feature of his high school life. I decided I needed an instrument, too, and I went on to join the high school orchestra. Conscious enough not to copy him exactly, I took clarinet and then saxophone lessons, despite lacking a single musical instinct in my body, and I dutifully showed up for every rehearsal and performance, while lowering our collective talent level audibly.

Perhaps I am wrong about my middle child. Maybe in four years, she will be doing cartwheels and aerials and whatever else those crazy moves are called with the same ease with which my older daughter executes them today. Maybe this is her thing, and all she needs is more practice. But somehow, I doubt it. I am happy for her to continue taking gymnastics and having fun, but it breaks my heart to think she might be doing it primarily because of her innate sibling competitiveness. I hope she finds her own passions and lets us help her groom her own talents, whatever they may be. Until then, I will hold my breath as she launches into a flip and be thankful for the smile she flashes as she picks herself up.

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