Sibling Comparison: An Open Invitation to Mental Health Issues
By Wasim Kakrou
“Lokay to your younger brother, why don’t you love him? “, “Look at your sister, she always gets first place in class” and “Why can’t you be more social like your older brother? are just a few of the cues that parents frequently use about their children, especially parents with authoritarian parenting styles.
The sibling comparison is so common in families that we don’t even think about it. In a competitive society, where parents frequently compare their children to those of others, the comparison is sure to follow them home. Siblings are usually remarkably different from each other, despite growing up in the same household, sharing comparable genetics, and having the same chances, problems, and experiences. Their habits, mannerisms, stages and adventures are contrasted from childhood, especially throughout their formative years. Report cards, teacher feedback, performance in extracurricular activities, social skills and personal development are all scrutinized, with no guarantee that the comparison will stop once they grow up. Although it is human nature to compare, and although parents may have the best intentions, when they expect two siblings to behave and act the same way, they are likely doing more than bad than good. After all, despite their commonalities and connections, children are still distinct individuals with unique psychology, physical abilities, interests, and driving forces. When children grow up and try to find their place in the world while facing obstacles in school and in society, they will have even more to worry about if their parents compare them to their siblings.
What many parents don’t realize is that such comparisons can have a negative impact on their children’s confidence and self-esteem and, more importantly, cause envy and jealousy between siblings. . However, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Let’s look at some of the reasons why comparing children is an unhealthy practice and should be avoided at all costs.
Comparing siblings is never a good idea because each individual is unique in terms of talents, abilities, interests, hobbies, strengths, weaknesses, and other characteristics. It’s like weighing eggs in kilograms; it does not mean anything. So, instead of focusing on what their children lack, parents should focus on their strengths and qualities. Make a list of their strengths and identify activities that work for them. According to a well-known quote, “Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.”
No one is flawless. Comparing siblings will almost always lead to frustration. You can’t expect every one of your teens to be equally good in the classroom, equally athletic, equally good at social interaction, equally responsible, and equally good at living up to the moral code you’ve set. You have to be patient with them and set realistic expectations or you will be disappointed day after day.
In addition, children who are continually compared to their siblings or other children, especially in terms of school results, have serious mental disorders, which they perpetuate into adulthood. Do you want your children to be stressed, anxious, depressed or suffer from any other mental illness? If the answer is an unequivocal no, stop comparing them.
Teens care a lot about what you say, so be careful what you say. Repeatedly telling one of your children that they are less intelligent than their siblings or that their handwriting is bad unlike the others will only make them feel inadequate. Comparison breeds competition. Jealousy between siblings could be the result of comparison, which has an impact on the family environment. Not only that, but it could hurt your relationship with your kids if they think you prefer one sibling over the other.
Moreover, comparisons can open the way to self-criticism. Self-criticism can then lead to perfectionist tendencies in these children, which can lead to dissatisfaction with almost everything these children do in their lives.
Comparisons can sometimes backfire, when a child unable to cope with pressure leads to rebellion. Some children may deliberately perform poorly in school or stop studying if they realize that their value depends on the success of their sibling. When a child’s performance falls short due to a higher standard set by a sibling, the child may feel like giving up completely and rebelling instead.
When young people are expected to follow in the footsteps of a sibling, they may be unable to explore the wide range of options and standards available. A child is free to set their own goals, milestones, and choices when there is no comparison, giving them greater opportunities to explore and choose. A younger child shouldn’t have to follow in the footsteps of an older brother who excelled in music, science, or art classes. To limit a child by comparing him to others is to limit his infinite possibilities and possibilities in terms of what he can do.
When teenagers are judged by those who are supposed to support and protect them, they naturally begin to wonder what is wrong with them and why they can’t be like their siblings. As a result, the message the child brings home is that “you’re not good enough” – laying the foundation for low self-esteem. What may seem like a passing comment may become a verse in their minds. What a child or adolescent perceives to be true in childhood finds its way into the subconscious mind, which shapes an individual’s personality even as they enter adulthood. These children begin to believe that they are incompetent. Low self-esteem leads to a lack of motivation and confidence. All of this happens only as a result of your judgments and comparisons, even if done with good intentions and for constructive purposes. Thus, a comparison intended to help the child do better does more harm than good in the long run.
You can’t stop the world from comparing your kids, but surely you can stop doing it at home. More than solving, the comparison makes the problem worse. Accept your children for who they are rather than who they should be. Setting goals is essential, but so is understanding and cultivating the uniqueness of children and adolescents.
What should parents/guardians do instead?
1. Parents need to make a conscious decision to avoid unhealthy comparisons. Note their strengths and limitations and help them grow in their own way. When they walk a different path than their siblings, resist the urge to compare or correct them.
2. Letting your pride in one of your siblings disappoint the other is not a good idea. Be sure to strike a balance between the two. Children are always watching closely and drawing their own opinions. Thus, labeling your children is not a good idea. Giving your children titles such as “clever”, “childish”, or “creative” not only limits their options to explore, but also sends the message that the other sibling does not have what “the one” contributes or instills into their mind a feeling of inferiority.
3. Maintaining open lines of communication within the family would encourage children to speak up when they feel they are being compared to others. This is essential in order to avoid harmful assumptions or disagreements with the children, as well as with each other. Also let the school know your expectations, as teachers frequently make sibling comparisons if they attend the same school.
4. Rather than forcing your kids to look the same, celebrate their differences. Communicate the value of having an independent identity so they don’t compare themselves even if no one else does. Encourage your children to work “alongside” rather than “against” each other. While your children are battling comparisons and competition on the outside, make your home a safe zone rather than an extension of it. Being a sibling doesn’t have to mean the end of a child’s individuality, and it’s up to parents to draw the line.
Parents, as the primary educators and caregivers, must make conscious efforts to avoid making comparisons between their children. Parents should follow their children’s strengths and weaknesses and help them grow in their own way. Every child admires their parents, so if the parents appreciate each child’s unique identity, the child will feel confident and learn to believe in themselves.
- The author is a licensed Clinical Psychologist (Alumni of Govt. Medical College Srinagar). He can be reached at 8825067196
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