Don't Make Comparisons between Siblings

Don't Make Comparisons between Siblings

Last update: 14 June, 2018

Avoiding comparisons between siblings is a basic principle of child-rearing.

Unfortunately, this is something that parents often do when their children are small. They compare their child to other children at school or on a sports team. Other times, they make comparisons between siblings.

Parents’ tendency to compare their children is natural. Generally speaking, these are comparisons that they make internally. They then come to light in certain conversations.

The problem arises when these comparisons place one child above the other and the children find out about it.

Other times, however, this occurs intentionally. Parents say things like, “Your brother is smarter and harder-working than you,” or “Try to behave more like your brother.”

Other times, a child will find out about these comparisons simply by overhearing a conversation not meant for his or her ears.

Why do parents compare siblings?

All parents want the best for their children. This is, in part, the origin of many sibling comparisons. Some parents believe this is the right thing to do.

In other words, idealizing one sibling will make him or her serve as a role model for the other. Generally, parents base these comparisons on a specific trait or talent. They feel it will be beneficial to the sibling on the short end of the comparison.

Don't Make Comparisons between Siblings
  • These comparisons between siblings also set a standard for the parents’ ideal. You need to take into consideration the specific characteristics and talents of each child, which are surely valuable and different. Instead, many parents take the child favored in the comparisons as the ideal model and try to make the other conform accordingly.
  • There are times when comparisons result from the mother or father identifying with one of the children. They see more of themselves in one of the children, and as a result consider him or her to be better. They tell the other child, “Your brother is as good at math as I was.” This does considerable damage to the child, who sees his or her parents as the highest authority. This is where jealousy starts.

Consequences of making comparisons between siblings

The negative consequences will generally affect the child devalued by the comparison.

  1. It damages the child’s self-esteem. By making comparisons, you are telling the child that he or she is not valuable, and lacks positive qualities. The result is insecurity, as well as feeling useless and unloved.
  2. Envy and jealousy will poison their sibling relationship. When one child believes his parents love his or her sibling more because he or she is simply better, this will create distance between them.
  3. When one sibling feels inferior to another because of unfavorable comparisons, he or she will resent the parents and grow hostile and listless. In many cases, he or she will look for ways to stand out in order to close the perceived gap. However, this won’t have the goal of growth and self-improvement. Rather, it will simply be to beat the sibling at something.
Don't Make Comparisons between Siblings

How to incentivize positive behavior without comparisons

It’s important to remember that every child is unique and valuable in his or her own right. Comparisons never lead to positive learning or growth.

To this end, these are measures you can take. It is possible to help your child develop their positive qualities and behaviors without the need to make comparisons.

  • You need to get to know your child as well as you can. Identify valuable qualities and let them know why they’re important. Children need to know that their parents value all their positive traits, and aren’t focusing on the negatives.
  • When you see positive behavior you’d like your child to develop further, make special mention of it and use positive reinforcement. The child needs to value that behavior because it’s good for them, not because their sibling does it.
  • It’s essential that children feel like their parents accept them as they are. This isn’t the same as saying there’s no room for improvement. In addition, they need to know that having or lacking a quality won’t make them loved any more or less.

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This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.