Enhanced – read by the author

Growing Relationships
Through Parenting & Education
Sibling Comparison: Doesn't Measure Up

by Connie Albers

It’s common for parents to compare their children. In fact, 80% of parents admitted to doing it according to one study—which isn’t surprising. After all, we live together and see each other’s strengths and weaknesses. We know which children get their schoolwork done and which ones clean their room without being asked. We also know which ones don’t.

Yes, comparisons may be common, but they are also dangerous.

When my kids were growing up, I would sometimes make comments like, “Why can’t you study like your brother?” or “Why can’t you clean up like your sister?” I didn’t want to hurt their relationships, but that’s exactly what can happen when we make offhanded comments like these. These “observations” can lead to jealousy and resentment between siblings and low self-esteem for the ones who feel like they come up short.

As parents, it is important to recognize that each child deserves to be appreciated as an individual. By celebrating the unique differences in our children instead of comparing them, we can help our children develop a healthy confidence in themselves and positive relationships with their siblings.

Consciously making an effort to appreciate each child’s specific strengths has created a more supportive and loving environment for my family. The good news is that you can, too!

mother talking to daughter on couch
Why Do Parents Compare Siblings?
Though it’s a common occurrence, the frequency and intensity of comparison can vary widely among families, and some parents are more prone to comparison than others. Why?
  • Upbringing. Some parents may have grown up in an environment where it was a normal occurrence. If their parents equated them to siblings or other children, they may have internalized this behavior and continue to practice it with their own children.
  • Cultural norms. Some cultures place a lot of emphasis on achievement and success. This can lead parents to compare their children to others in an effort to motivate them to do better.
  • Insecurity. Parents who are insecure about their own abilities or parenting skills may compare their children to others as a way of validating themselves or feeling more comfortable with their choices.
  • Pressure. Parents may feel pressure from society or other parents to raise “successful” children. Comparison is a way to measure their children’s progress against others.
  • Lack of awareness. Some parents may not even realize they are engaging in comparison. It may be an automatic response they have never thought to question or examine.

It’s important to note that there is no single cause of parental comparison, and it can be a complex issue with many contributing factors. However, by understanding some of the possible reasons why parents compare their children, we can begin to develop strategies to address this behavior and create a more positive and supportive environment for our children.

mother talking to daughter on couch
Is All Comparison Destructive?
Comparison can have positive and negative effects on both sibling relationships and
personal growth. There actually is a healthy way to do it. Done correctly, comparisons can be a powerful motivator that inspires children to work harder and strive for success. Healthy comparisons can motivate children by providing encouragement and inspiration.
“I noticed that you really enjoy reading. Your sister was always interested in sports, but you have your own unique talents.” Or, “Your brother struggled with math when he was your age, but eventually he worked hard and improved. I’m confident you can do the same.”

But we have to be very careful as parents, because comparisons tend to be unhealthy—often said without thinking or out of our own frustration.

“Why can’t you be more like your sister? She always gets straight A’s and never causes me any trouble.” Or, “Your brother was a star athlete in high school. Why can’t you even make the team?”

2 younger sisters smiling for the camera
These statements may seem harsh, but unfortunately it’s easy to slip into a habit of negativity and say things we really don’t want to say.

Understand that sibling comparison is not limited to just verbal comparisons. It can also be implied through our actions or nonverbal cues, such as body language, facial expressions, or tone of voice. For example, a parent who is constantly praising one child in front of his or her siblings, while ignoring or criticizing another child, can create a negative dynamic between them that can have long-lasting consequences.

mother talking to daughter on couch
What is the Cost of Sibling Comparison?
Whether it’s academic performance, athletic ability, behavior, or even physical appearance—comparing siblings can have serious consequences for children. Comparison can:
  • Create an unhealthy competition between siblings. When children constantly feel they are being measured up to a sibling, they can develop deep-seeded jealousies and resentment. Eventually there will be a breakdown in their relationships.
  • Lead to the development of low self-worth. When children are always being reminded of a sibling’s achievements or accolades without recognition of their own unique accomplishments, they may begin to see themselves as never good enough. This can then manifest itself in poor and destructive behavior.
  • Result in suppressed individuality. When siblings are constantly compared to one another, they may feel pressured to conform to a certain mold or persona, instead of being their true selves. Children who feel they would be better off being like someone else may feel confused, isolated, or even depressed.
  • Foster a lack of trust and respect between siblings. When one sibling feels they are being compared unfavorably to the other, it can create a sense of mistrust or even hostility. This can be especially harmful in adult relationships, as siblings may struggle to maintain a close bond later in life.
  • Hurt your relationships with them and how they feel about themselves. Children who are constantly compared to their siblings may begin to feel inadequate, unloved, or even rejected by their parents.
mother talking to daughter on couch
Tips to Avoid Negative Comparisons
So, what can you do to avoid these dangers of sibling comparison? Here are a few tips:
  • Evaluate why you’ve been comparing your children. Knowing why we do things is the first step to changing a behavior. Think through the list above and reflect on your own upbringing. Once it’s been identified, it can be dealt with.
  • Recognize the unique strengths and weaknesses of each child. Rather than comparing siblings, focus on their individual strengths and weaknesses, encouraging each child to develop his or her own talents and skills. Be intentional to talk about what is good and right in each child in front of one another. Children need public affirmation from us. It doesn’t have to be constant praise, but enough so your children know you notice them for who they are.
  • Celebrate differences. Emphasize the positive aspects of each child’s individuality. Encourage your children to explore their own interests and hobbies. If you have a large family like me, time and budget will dictate how much each child can do.
  • Avoid labeling. Be careful not to label one child as the “smart one” or the “athletic one.” While we generally don’t mean to put labels on our children, it can happen if it’s repeated too often. These labels can create pressure and unrealistic expectations.
  • Create a positive family culture. Foster a positive family culture where each child is valued and appreciated individually. Celebrate accomplishments, but also encourage each other through setbacks and failures.
mother talking to daughter on couch
What to Do if You’ve Been Comparing
We’re all human and fall short sometimes Even the most mindful parent will have a bad day or make a remark without thinking. Thankfully, His grace is sufficient. When we inevitably make a mistake, here are three examples of how you can undo hurts:
  • Acknowledge and validate their feelings. Let them talk to you or someone you trust or have them write down their thoughts and emotions in a journal (just be sure their siblings don’t read the entries). Remember, their feelings are valid and it’s okay to feel hurt, angry, or frustrated.
  • Focus on their unique strengths. Instead of dwelling on the ways they could do things better, focus on their unique strengths and accomplishments. Take time to reflect on their achievements and qualities that make you proud. Embrace their individuality and celebrate those differences.
  • Improve your communication with your children. Open and honest communication is key to any relationship, including the one with their siblings. Talk to your children about how you didn’t mean to hurt them. Then, set a time when your children can share how they felt when you compared them to others. Try to express your feelings without blaming, attacking, or justifying. Find ways to encourage family members to support each other’s strengths and weaknesses.

If you think you’ve been comparing your children and realize you’ve caused some damage to their relationship, don’t panic, pray! Your children’s self-esteem, lack of trust, or resentment can be rebuilt. God is in the repairing business.

2 people hugging
Children have the capacity to forgive offenses when they sense a sincere heart and a willingness to stop comparing them. It may take longer for some children to heal than others, but that’s okay. Be patient. They are in the process of learning to rebuild trust and feel loved for who they are. It’s not unusual for children to need your help as they learn to let go of bitterness and anger. When your affirmation replaces comparison, your children will feel secure in who God made them to be, with their unique gifts and talents. Don’t get discouraged, relationships can be repaired!
When we recognize the unique strengths and weaknesses of each of our children, celebrate their differences, avoid labeling, and create a positive family culture, we can help our children build strong, loving relationships with each other and us.
headshot of Connie Albers

onnie Albers is a mother of five and veteran homeschool mom who has used her public relations background to help shape the homeschooling movement for twenty-seven years. She has spent much of her adult life as a homeschool mom and mompreneur with an outreach and ministry to parents through her speaking, writing, and various leadership roles. More recently Connie’s newest book, Parenting Beyond the Rules by NavPress, outlines positive approaches to parenting today’s teenagers. Her enthusiasm for helping others navigate social media led to her taking a post at Social Media Marketing World. Connie’s mission is to equip moms to live their lives with confidence and joy.

Connie and her husband, Tom, have been married thirty-five years and have homeschooled their five children, all of whom continued their studies and graduated from the University of Central Florida, from the beginning.