When it comes to kids, there is no equal. So how do we stop comparing them?
Published: March 24, 2020
By: Sarah Lyons
As a mother of six children, I have found myself comparing one child to another many times.
I know their physical, emotional and intellectual development will progress at a rate unique to each child, and each will have their own strengths and weaknesses. But it is hard not to think “Your sister never did this” in the middle of a tantrum over a seemingly trivial problem.
Parents often battle the urge to compare one child to another. It is a natural reaction, considering we use comparisons to make decisions involving nearly every other aspect of our lives.
When dealing with two or more children, we must do the exact opposite of this natural tendency.
“This was hard for me when my son was younger. He had several developmental delays, and I would struggle with comparing him to where his sister was at that age,” said Ashley Clark, a mother of two. “I knew it wasn’t healthy for any of us, and I had to let it go.”
Comparing siblings can have negative effects because it can create jealousy, sibling rivalry, feelings of self-doubt and negative effects on the parent-child relationship. We know each child is different, with their own gifts, struggles and personality, which affect how they grow, learn and develop. So how do we learn to appreciate these differences rather than compare them?
Identify their strengths. When the urge to compare your children arises, identify the strengths of each child. One may have an excellent sense of coordination and excel in physical development and, later, in sports. Another child may have no interest in sports but have a knack for listening to others and perceiving how they are feeling. Compassion and caretaking may come naturally to a child with these strengths.
“It helps to see how their differences help all of us as a whole,” said Elizabeth DeArmond, a mother of four. “We balance each other out.”
While taking notes on strengths, acknowledge areas where each child may struggle, and allow more patience and instruction in this area without putting the child down.
We all have different strengths and struggles, and we need to learn to embrace them. As your child grows, keep your expectations in line with their abilities and interests.
Focus on the child’s efforts. Instead of comparing one child’s struggles to another child’s successes, try to focus on each child’s efforts and improvements.
“I have to remind myself that the kids are all different and continue to train them accordingly,” said Kelly Lawton, a mother of five. “Eventually they will mature at their own pace and will ultimately grow into productive, independent adults.”
Things come easily to some, while others put in hard work to gain the same result. Instead of noting the ease with which one child can accomplish tasks, take note and celebrate the child who is putting in the most effort, and congratulate them on any improvements made.
“Once I embraced their differences, I could appreciate where they are as little people,” Clark said.
Celebrate individual milestones. As parents, we desire to be “fair” to all of our children. I noticed as my children grew, I became so focused on being fair that I was missing the celebration of the individual milestones that were important and meaningful to each child.
Being fair is a great goal, but part of that is appreciating each child’s differences rather than comparing them as a group. When you notice your child has a new accomplishment, share it with the entire family at dinner. It lets them know you pay attention to their individual success.
No one wants to hear “Why can’t you be more like your sister?” Comparisons feel like judgment. While it goes against our natural instinct, we must learn to see the individuality in our children.
“My twin girls are emotionally different, which has led me to parent each one differently. The sensitive one needs gentle corrections, while the other responds better to timeouts and words of affirmation,” said Jennifer Klindworth. “When we have the chance, we separate them and go on outings for one-on-one time. It is amazing how different they are when they are not competing for attention.”
Loving and appreciating your children for their differences doesn’t mean you love one more than others. It means you have learned to love each of them for their unique qualities.