While an older child is the first to reach most milestones, having the edge of experience doesn't mean she'll be the "best" forever. For one thing, "a younger child has an advantage because he gets to imitate the older one, which gives him a jump start on just about every skill," says Bobbi Conner, author of The Parent's Journal Guide to Raising Great Kids. And around the age of 5 or 6, when a younger sibling starts school, joins teams, and makes his own friends, his own talents will naturally begin to emerge.
Siblings who are less than three years apart are most likely to experience role reversals -- awkward since they may move in some of the same social, athletic, and academic circles. To help the competition stay healthy:
PRAISE STRENGTHS. Compliment both kids on their individual accomplishments. "It's important to recognize each youngster for doing things well, even tasks like making the bed neatly," says Richard Gross, M.D., a child psychiatrist and professor of psychiatry at George Washington University Medical School.
CELEBRATE DIFFERENCES. Acknowledge each child's efforts and talents by showing an equal interest in them. Go to a younger one's ball games, for instance, but also attend the neighborhood plays that his big sister helps organize.
SPARK NEW INTERESTS. If an older sibling is feeling outdone in what was previously her area of expertise, help her discover a new talent to add to her repertoire. "Both Katie and Brendan decided to join a swim team, but Katie's the one who took to the water like a fish," says Peggy Hickey. "She could outswim her brother, proving to herself that she was better at something."
KEEP PERSPECTIVE. Don't play down a younger child's achievements to make an older one feel better, but keep the kudos realistic. Say "You played a great game," not "You're the best ballplayer ever."