Wednesday’s Parent: College-bound sibling rivalry is more than jealousy

Siblings. Photo by Amanda Gaines

Siblings. Photo by Amanda Gaines

The focus on college prep is on the college-bound student going through the process not his/her siblings. However, they too are greatly impacted by their brother’s or sister’s college prep. Sibling rivalry encompasses more than jealousy. It may generate anxious feelings of loneliness, sadness and worry. Here are five things parents may be on the lookout for and how they can help:

Attention Are family dinner conversations devoted to choice of college majors? Are family vacations really collegecations, family vacay + college visits? Are family purchases considered while calculating college costs? Siblings notice where the family spotlight shines.

Parents may include siblings in college prep activities. For example, siblings may help search for scholarships for their brother or sister and themselves. College scholarships are available for students in elementary school through the college years. Younger siblings may be specifically encouraged to join in conversations expanding vocabulary in preparation for their college admission tests. Older siblings may be urged to share their experiences with choosing a major.

Time The college-bound must make room in their schedule for studying for college admission tests, homework for advanced classes, community service projects, and researching colleges. College prep activities take up a lot of formerly free time – some of which may have been shared with a sibling. Now there may be an empty gap in the sibling’s schedule.

Parents may help their children with time management and organization. By creating a calendar and listing all the must do’s, want to do’s may be filled in next. There may not be a lot of impromptu downtime with siblings but pre-arranged slots ensures togetherness will happen. Meanwhile, parents may help siblings find new interests or develop existing ones for their newly found free time as they all move toward independence and their own life path.

Comparison Following in someone else’s college-bound footsteps is a double-edged sword. Sometimes it paves the sibling’s way, providing a roadmap of pitfalls, warnings and expectations. Other times it highlights their different personalities, talents and interests which may collide with expectations. This may lead to doubts about self-worth, pressure to change or exaggerated conceits.

Parents may have to be extra careful not to engage in comparisons. Using one child as an example for another may cause problems difficult to undo. Provide praise when warranted and support when necessary, appreciate and celebrate accomplishments, and recognize unique and special talents for each child.

Money Barring an unexpected windfall, family finances are finite. When money is set aside for a large purchase like a college education, cash for other things may no longer be viable options. College loan debt must be paid back and factored into an increase in monthly bills. If not, there will be severe consequences that may not be borne equally by all family members and there may a shortage of future funds.

Parents of college-bound students (POCS) have two large financial goals to plan for: college educations for their children and retirement for themselves. Before committing family dollars, consider a long range plan and budget for these expenses. At a family meeting, share these financial expectations and the contributions for college expected from student pockets.

Change Separation anxiety may hit hard for parents and siblings when students leave for college but it also may cause plenty of anticipatory stress. Shopping for college supplies, packing belongings, rearranging the student’s bedroom are constant reminders of impending change.

Parents may help themselves, the college student and siblings by planning fun things to look forward to. Scheduling when to expect phone calls and care packages may allay some anxiety for the college-bound. Starting new activities may work like magic to distract worry from both siblings and their parents.

Read Suzanne’s post about sibling rivalry.


Wednesday’s child may be full of woe but Wednesday’s Parent can substitute action for anxiety. Each Wednesday Suzanne Shaffer and I will provide parent tips to get and keep your student on the college track. It’s never too late or too early to start!

The bonus is on the fourth Wednesday of each month when Suzanne and I will host Twitter chat #CampusChat at 9pm ET/6pm PT. We will feature an expert on a topic of interest for parents of the college-bound.

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