If you grew up with a sibling, chances are, you’re not privy to comparisons in the house. Comparison among siblings is so naturally practiced in households, that it isn’t even given a second thought, or pondered over. In a competitive world where parents often compare their own children with others’, the comparison is bound to make its way home too. Despite growing up in the same house, sharing similar genetics and having the same opportunities, challenges and exposure, siblings are more often than not, quite different from one another. Right from childhood, their habits, mannerisms, milestones and journeys are compared, especially in their prime growing years. Comparison among report cards, teachers’ feedbacks, performance in extracurricular activities, social skills, and personal development, all come under scrutiny, with absolutely no guarantee that the comparison will eventually come to an end after they grow up.
The Unhealthy Comparison Parents Make
Although it is human nature to compare, and while parents may have the best interest in doing so, they probably are causing more harm than good, when they expect two individuals to behave and perform the same. After all, despite the similarities and bond, children are still individual identities, separate from one another, with different psychology, physical abilities, interest and driving factors. It may not be a reasonable expectation to get rid of conscious and subconscious comparisons entirely. Healthy comparisons may boost a child’s motivation, and push him/her to perform better. A sibling’s learning and journey may even act as an example, or opportunity to learn, but the thin line between healthy and unhealthy comparisons may well have completely different results. When comparisons are overpowered by judgements, expectations, or disappointments, they lead to impacts that may last for years to come, and even end up shaping their identities.
A child growing up and finding his/her place in the world, while dealing with challenges in the school and society, will only have more things to worry about, when the pressure exists at home too.
Effect on Children
Comparisons may seem normal, and harmless in everyday scenarios, but its effects on children are too severe and damaging, to be ignored.
Damaged Self Esteem: Children often look up to their parents, and take their word to be the absolute truth. Therefore when a child is asked by a parent, to be more like his/her sibling, the message that the child takes home is that “you are not good enough” – the foundation to a damaged self esteem. What may seem as a casual remark, may end up becoming a verse in their minds. What a child believes to be true in childhood, makes its way to the subconscious – which essentially shapes an individual even as they grow up into adults. Thus, a comparison meant to help the child perform better, in the long run, does more harm than good.
Rift Between Siblings: Another danger of sibling comparison, is the rift it may create between the siblings – whether evident or not. Siblings that are compared often, may breed feelings of superiority and inferiority, eventually leading to rift between them. Sometimes, such rift may not be openly expressed, leading to further damage, as the child may end up making distorted perceptions and opinions about the sibling, that may affect their relationship. Suppressed feelings eventually, don’t just distant a child from the sibling, but the family too.
Rebelling: Comparisons may have just the opposite effect sometimes, when a child, unable to cope with the pressure, ends up rebelling instead. Some children may intentionally perform poorly in academics, or distant themselves from studying, when they see that their worth is based on their sibling’s performance. Despite giving their best efforts, when a child’s performance is not good enough due to a higher standard set by a sibling, the child may want to give up on trying altogether, and end up rebelling instead.
Limited Opportunities: A child may not be able to explore the plethora of opportunities and standards available, when he/she is expected to follow the sibling’s footprint. When there are no comparisons, a child is free to make his/her own goals, milestones and choices, giving him/her more opportunity to explore and choose. For example, an elder sibling that exceled in music lessons, science, or arts, must not be the reason a younger child is forced to follow the same path. To limit a child with comparison is to limit the endless opportunities, and the possibilities of what the child could be.
Psychological Impact: How a child perceives himself/herself, is often based on how parents perceive them, or how the child ‘thinks’ the parents perceive them. When a child sees that the parent is not whole heartedly appreciative of their effort and performances, due to a clouding comparison, it may leave psychological impact on the child. The child’s emotions and coping strategies change accordingly, when his/her milestones are not seen in their own unique light. These may lead to serious issues such as depression, or unhealthy coping mechanisms.
What to Do Instead?
Parents must make a conscious decision to avoid unhealthy comparisons. Make a note of their strengths and weaknesses, and help them flourish in their own rights. Hold back the urge to compare or correct them, when they take a route different from the sibling’s.
Do not let your pride for one sibling, indirectly convey disappointment to the other. Be careful to balance among the two. Children are always watching, and often times coming to their own conclusions. Do not label your children. Giving your children labels such as the ‘smart one’, ‘the childish one’, or ‘creative one’, doesn’t just limit their scopes to explore, but also sends out the message that the other sibling lacks what ‘the one’ brings, or sets in their mind, a predefined notion of themselves.
Keeping open communication in the family, would encourage children to speak up when they think they’re being subjected to comparisons. This is important to avoid unhealthy assumptions or differences with the children, and among them too. Also, communicate this expectation with the school, where teachers often make comparisons if the siblings happen to attend the same school.
Celebrate the differences among your children instead of forcing them to be similar. Communicate the importance of having an independent identity, so that even when no one is comparing, they don’t make the comparison themselves. Encourage your children to work ‘with’ each other, instead of ‘against’. While children battle comparisons and competition outside, let your home be the resting space to it all, instead of an extension. Being a sibling must not mean the end of a child’s individuality, and the first step to demarcate the boundary, lies with the parents.
- Jiji Tharayil