As a parent, you probably compare your children to each other in terms of their appearances, interests, strengths and the ages when they reached important developmental milestones. Sometimes comparing siblings is harmless, but if you’re not careful, you may cause a child to feel as though he or she can’t measure up and spark anxiety and sibling rivalry.
How Comparisons Can Hurt Kids
Your children may be siblings, but they are different people. They may have completely different personalities, interests and dreams. The fact that one child was interested in a topic or activity, or reacted a particular way in a past situation, does not mean that another child will or should feel or respond the same way. Expecting your kids to be the same, and expressing negative thoughts or emotions when they aren’t, can make a child feel like a disappointment or a failure.
Don’t tell a child that he or she should be like a sibling. Pointing out one child’s perceived faults can make that child feel inferior, create the impression that you love a sibling more, undermine self-esteem and trigger anxiety. Those feelings can lead to resentment and an unhealthy focus on competition. A child who feels inferior may look for opportunities to criticize the “good” sibling and your kids may get locked in a pattern of trying to outdo each other and tear each other down.
How to Build Your Kids’ Self-Esteem and Foster Healthy Relationships
If you compare siblings, focus on objective observations. Don’t make statements that seem judgmental. For example, you can note that one child excels academically while another is a talented musician, but don’t say or imply that one child’s talents make him or her superior to the other. That could make a child who is working hard and succeeding in one area feel as though their accomplishments don’t matter and that they will never win your approval.
If you are pleased or displeased with a child’s behavior, focus only on that child’s actions. Don’t bring any mention of a sibling into the conversation. Doing so could lead to feelings of rivalry.
Individual talents and different perspectives make the world an interesting place and give us opportunities to learn from each other. Celebrate what makes each child unique. Enroll your kids in classes or programs so they can pursue their own passions and develop their unique talents.
Choose Your Words Carefully
When you’re stressed and frustrated, it’s easy to say something that is unintentionally hurtful. A child may remember what you said long after you have forgotten, especially if the words were spoken in anger.
Focus on accepting and celebrating your kids for who they are. That can make them feel that they are loved unconditionally and build their confidence so they will be able to persevere when they face challenges. Rather than comparing your children to each other, encourage them all to figure out who they are and who they want to become.