Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Maternal Labeling of Gifted Children: Effects on the Sibling Relationship

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Maternal Labeling of Gifted Children: Effects on the Sibling Relationship

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: The present study examined the impact of maternal labeling of children as gifted on the sibling relationship. Subjects were 144 pairs of firstborn and secondborn siblings classified according to maternal perceptions into one of four groups: both gifted, firstborn gifted, secondborn gifted, or neither gifted. Five aspects of the sibling relationship were examined: Warmth/Closeness, Status/Power, Conflict, Maternal Partiality, and Paternal Partiality. Results indicated that unlabeled children generally did not view the sibling relationship more negatively than their labeled siblings. However, there was consistent evidence of labeling effects which interacted with birth order. Maternal labeling of firstborn children was associated with greater Warmth/Closeness in the sibling relationship. but maternal labeling of secondborn children appeared to have the opposite effect of reduced Warmth/Closeness.

* Parents of high-ability children often express concern about the effects of gifted labeling on siblings. Several authors have suggested that the identification of one child in the family as "gifted" could indirectly imply that a sibling is "not gifted" (Ballering & Koch, 1984; Cornell. 1983, 1984; Fisher, 1978, 1981; Grenier, 1985; Robinson, 1986). Do unlabeled siblings resent the positive status accorded to a gifted brother or sister, or feel that they are less favored by their parents? Could differential labeling of one child as gifted have an adverse effect on the sibling relationship? The present study examined children's perceptions of their sibling relationship when one of them is labeled gifted by their mother.

Sibling Adjustment. Previous sibling studies investigated whether siblings of gifted children suffer from low self-esteem or other indications of adjustment problems. Cornell (1983, 1984) found that nongifted siblings of gifted children were less well-adjusted than nongifted children who did not have gifted siblings. In a subsequent study, Cornell and Grossberg (1986) did not find adjustment problems in a group of unlabeled children whose siblings were placed in a gifted program at school. However, the subgroup of children perceived as less gifted by their mothers had lower self-esteem and higher anxiety than their gifted program siblings.

In contrast, other studies have not found adjustment problems in siblings of gifted children. In a study of twins, one of whom was placed in a gifted program, Renzulli and McGreevy (1986) concluded that differential placement did not result in "serious long-term problems" for either sibling. Robinson, Chamrad, and Janos (1987) found that differences in adjustment between siblings were related to birth order and sex of siblings, but not to differential school placement of siblings in gifted or regular programs.

Colangelo and Brower (1987a, 1987b) reported that gifted siblings were concerned about the impact of their labeling on their nongifted sibling, but the authors found no actual differences in self-esteem between students placed in gifted or regular programs. Although the apparent absence of self-esteem problems among unlabeled siblings is encouraging, it is conceivable that these siblings were unwilling to acknowledge their feelings about not being labeled gifted. It is noteworthy that only 19% of the unlabeled siblings in the Colangelo and Brower study (1987a, 1987b) returned their questionnaires. In addition, it may be that parent labeling, rather than school placement, is the factor which influences sibling reactions to a gifted child.

Sibling Relationship. Other studies examined the sibling relationship rather than the adjustment of unlabeled siblings. Several authors have proposed that the positive status accorded to a gifted child may trigger increased feelings of jealousy, rivalry, or resentment in siblings not recognized as equally gifted (Bridges, 1973; Cornell, 1984; Ross, 1972). In a study of pairs of brothers, Pfouts (1976, 1980) found that the less-able brother felt hostility toward the brother who outshined him. …

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