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Patterns in child development - a.k.a the benefits of and to a child second.

I'm a first child, so I can't claim to have any idea what it is actually like to be a second child.

My brother is a second child and says that I used to boss him around a lot. That's probably a fair call, in hindsight - but I can only admit to that after many, many years of self-reflection and pushing myself to see the good, bad and ugly in the mirror.

I was often quite envious of him because he had a talent people could see. He could draw with ability far beyond his years. Once, when we were nine and seven we entered a Father's Day drawing competition. We had to draw our dad. I drew a very 'proper' picture of my dad with a perfectly oval face and almond shaped eyes, a straight nose and neat ears and his beard was nicely trimmed. Michael drew an irregular head shape and big puffy beard and oddly shaped eyes and funny ears and completely nailed the 'feel' of my dad. Michael won the contest, I didn't even get a commendation. It was a hard life!

I had a talent for writing, but it's not easy to get people to read a manuscript. A drawing on the other hand can be shoved under the nose of any passer by and receive instant feedback, and because Michael was unexpectedly awesome, the feedback was always positive. Jealously is a curse, and I had it.

Decades later my brother and I get along very well and I've even let him put his artwork on my body in form of tattoos - I'm very proud of his talent!

I now have a second child of my own. In our household the roles are a little reversed, in that it is the older child who has the instant-feedback talent (but also the bossy nature, like his mum), and the second child struggles for recognition.

My second child's 'talent' has always been his ability to be autonomous and relatively responsible. He's the child who gets things done without being monitored every. five. seconds. By things, I mean schoolwork, not housework.

This year though, he's been struggling. He has been putting off doing his homework until he is made to do it, and a couple of times, he hasn't handed it in at all. Yesterday he told me his teacher wants to have a chat with me because he's been having trouble concentrating in class.

Other things have been happening, too.

A friendship with a new kid at school led to incidences of bullying of an old friend of his. Apparently, he didn't actively participate in the bullying, but he didn't move to prevent it either - which in our book is the same as supporting it. The bullied friend is now being homeschooled. I don't know if being homeschooled is as a direct result of the bullying or something that was in the works and was moved forward because the child was unhappy at school. The second child has had playdates with his old friend since the decision to homeschool, so the two friends still seem to be getting along, but I think it has rocked the second child's world to have this all happened. He was not able to predict it and likely feels some responsibility and confusion.

He benefits from being a second child, though. You see, at this same age with the first child, we had similar problems with homework and lack of concentration in class - except with the first child it went from mild to major in the degree of difficulty, with the second child it has gone from non-existent to mild... I hope!

I've had a talk with him about why he's struggling and his response was, 'Grade five is so much harder than I thought it would be.' The first child was in grade four at this age, which tells me that as well as whatever is going on within the second child that might be age related, he is also experiencing added pressure from the increase responsibility that comes with upper primary school.

Because he's our second child, he gets to avoid the initial panic reaction the first child had to endure while we were trying to figure out what the hell the problem was. The second child gets parents with a little more experience and some sort of a plan. The plan is a mix of compassion and tough love. A little, 'We know honey, it's definitely harder this year than anytime before, there is more work and you get into trouble a lot quicker if you muck around.' with a little 'You cannot afford to feel sorry for yourself or give up, this is life and you need to get with the program and we will help you do that.'

It never hurts to offer support, even while maintaining an expectation.

We've also given him the opportunity to develop a talent of his own - playing the guitar - though right now he's finding it difficult to stay motivated with practicing and he's generously offered for the third child to 'have a go at something', which we're not letting the second child get away with as it removes the responsibility for giving from his shoulders and later he could (and would, with his personality) say that he was forced to give up guitar because number three wanted to do something, too.

I'm thankful for the experiences with the first child which have given us some indication of how to react with the second child (although, of course, the individual temperament of each child always needs to be taken into account). I'm also thankful because it's shaken us from type-casting our second child as 'the independent one' and has reminded us that he can also struggle with demands and expectations. Finally, it has indicated a pattern that might repeat with the third child when he's eleven; the sense of overwhelm that leads to a child being less focused or able that he was at ten. We'll see what happens in 2016!


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