An Expert Shares How to Deal With Your Older Sibling's Reputation at School

When you step onto a high school campus where everyone already thinks they know you because they know your older sibling, it can be difficult to step out of their shadow.

Whether they have a bad reputation or a glowing one, those expectations can weigh down on us and affect how others see us. How can we deal when we find ourselves in those situations? We got to the bottom of it by chatting with Elizabeth Verdick, author of advice books, including Siblings: You're Stuck With Each Other, So Stick Together.

Sweety High: What are some of the biggest upsides of going to a school where everyone knows your older sibling?

Elizabeth Verdick: The upsides include going someplace where someone older than you has likely spent years getting the inside scoop. Your sibling will tell you which teachers are the best—and the worst. Your sibling has already survived a bunch of homework and tests that you'll end up facing someday, and may be willing to help you out when you're struggling. If your sibling plays sports, you can get info on the coaches and strategies for doing well on a team. Your sibling could be your go-to person whenever you have questions about joining clubs, getting along with others or handling academic expectations.

Your older sibling has to do almost everything before you do: take standardized tests, sign up for driver's education and apply for jobs or college. You get to watch your sibling succeed, make mistakes, and sometimes fail, which helps you see what lies ahead and how to follow in someone's footsteps. Your own path will vary from your sibling's path, but you'll perhaps feel more confident as you move ahead because you've witnessed someone who's older than you take all sorts of steps for years. Maybe your sibling will even be excited to take you on a tour of the school so you know where things are before you start there as a student.


(Mob Psycho 100 via Tokyo MX)


SH: What are some of the downsides?

EV: Sometimes, it may feel as if nothing is "yours" because someone else—your sibling—has already been there and done that. You're not the first in your family to be on the soccer team, for example, or perform in school concerts. Maybe you're even playing your sibling's old instrument or wearing a uniform that looks just like the one they once wore. Your parents have been in the stands or audience before, and maybe you feel like there will always be comparisons. Maybe you wonder if you'll ever have the feeling of being first in something.

Sometimes, siblings worry that they can never measure up to their big brother or big sister. Other times, parents are the ones who put on the pressure. "Why can't you be more like your sister?" It's hard to follow in the footsteps of someone else when all you really want to do is be you and figure out who you are at your own pace, in your own time.


SH: How can we set ourselves apart if our sibling has a reputation for being a bad student? 

EV: It's difficult stepping into the school where your sister or brother paved a not-so-great path for you. You're judged before you even set foot in the door! So how can you stand on your own, and show your teachers and the principal that you are unique even though you share a last name with your sibling, especially if you resemble them in terms of appearance?

Well, teachers should know better than to judge you based on your sibling. Just because your sibling struggled academically or was known for breaking rules doesn't mean you're there to do exactly the same thing. Your school record is yours. Your own grades and past performance in middle school lead the way more than anything else does.

Don't worry too much about your sibling's reputation. Focus instead on being the best you that you can be. Meet your new teachers, make friends, stay focused on your schoolwork, and know and follow the rules. If you hear a lot of complaints from your sibling about how "bad" the school was and how "dumb" the rules were, know that you get to make your own decisions as you go forward. That will be true all your life—you make decisions that affect your future, for better or for worse.


(Stranger Things via Netflix)


SH: On the other hand, how do we step out of the shadow of a straight-A, sports star sibling?

EV: Some younger siblings find themselves in a situation where they feel compared to an older sibling who was a so-called "star," and on the first day, the coach is already asking, "You gonna try out?" But it's important to remember that you're still your own person. You have your own set of skills, strengths, and interests. Pursue those! Be honest about saying, "My sibling was really into theater, but I'm focused on school government," or whatever. Once people get to know you, they'll see even more clearly that you don't live in someone else's shadow.

Thor: Ragnarok: Thor pats Loki's back in an elevator

(Thor: Ragnarok via Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

But what if your parents are the ones who are making that shadow seem larger than life and always comparing you to your sibling? Speak up. Get comfortable with standing up for who you are and what you like to do. It may even help to get your sibling on your side. Explain to your older brother or sister that you feel like the two of you are always being compared. See if he or she will stand up for you at home whenever your parents tell you to be more like so-and-so. Siblings can be great allies.


Sibling relationships can be complicated, so click HERE for some tips on dealing with a jealous brother or sister.