How to avoid comparing your children
Amanda Kowal, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Human Development & Family Studies, Human Environmental Sciences, University of Missouri
Do you worry about your kids fighting? One way parents can work to lessen sibling rivalry and jealousy is to focus on each child’s behavior without comparing him or her to a brother or sister. It can be difficult to avoid comparing children, but it’s worth the effort and is an important step to successfully parenting siblings.
Each child has his or her own particular skills or characteristics, so it can be tempting for parents to compare their children. Although it may seem natural to make such comparisons, they can be hard for children.
For example, comments like “Your sister is always on time, why can’t you be?” or “your brother always helps with the dishes, why can’t you be more like him?” can make children feel resentful or angry at a sibling. They can also make children feel that their parents love them less than their brothers or sisters.
Comparisons that put a child in a better light than a sibling, for example “you have a much better sense of style than your sister” or “I wish your brother would keep his room clean like you do” can make a child feel guilty or sorry for a sibling. They may feel disloyal toward a sibling and worried about the love parents have for a brother or sister.
Ways to Avoid Making Comparisons
You can avoid making comparisons by simply identifying and describing a child’s particular behavior or personality – without making reference to a sibling. For example, you can simply describe what you see, or what you like, or what you don’t like, or what needs to be done.
- Instead of saying “you always do your chores on time, unlike your sister who always forgets”, tell your child “Wow! I appreciate that you did your chores!”
- Instead of saying “Your shirt is filthy, why can’t you be neat like your brother?” say “your shirt is very dirty, you’d look nicer in a clean shirt.”
- Instead of saying “Don’t you dare call me “slow” your sister never talks to me like that!” say “It’s hard for me to be helpful when I’m being criticized.”
- Instead of saying “Why can’t you follow the rules like your brother?” say “I am disappointed that you did not go to bed on time when the babysitter was here.”
- Instead of saying “You look neat as a pin – your brother always looks like he just rolled out of bed” say, “you look great! I like that outfit on you.”
Rather than comparing your children to make a point, try describing the situation. Remember that whatever you want to say to your child can be said directly, without any reference to a brother or sister. The important thing is to stick to the issue of what this one child is doing (or not doing) – without referring to a sibling.
Faber, A. & Mazlish (1987). Sibling's Without Rivalry. New York: Avon.
Last Updated 05/13/2009