EVERY child is different, and it's only natural that parents will notice these differences. But it is unwise to keep comparing your child to his siblings or friends. In fact, clinical psychologist Dr Pearnel Bell warns that while most parents believe they are helping their children, they could be paving the way towards an inferiority complex.
““Being criticised or being labelled as 'lesser than' can be harsh, and it is quite difficult to digest – even as adults. In children, it is even more difficult and painful, and while it may not be the intention of the parent, their 'motivation' is causing some children a lot of harm,” Dr Bell explained.
Instead of comparing their children, Dr Bell said that parents should strive to highlight the uniqueness of each of them. This is particularly important because being a sibling or a blood relative does not mean that children will have identical interests, abilities or skill sets. Parents need to understand this and learn to appreciate each child's qualities.
Dr Bell was also quick to note that this in no way suggests that parents should not point out their children's mistakes or highlight areas of weakness that should be strengthened. In fact, she says this is a big part of offering critical support to your child, but don't compare them to a sibling, a peer, or a friend, because immediately they will know that you are telling them that they are not measuring up.
Dr Bell said comparing your child could lead to the following:
The child is likely to become stressed.
When you compare children you are sending a message that you are not pleased with them. This could cause children to do everything in their power to change this, even though it may only lead to more demands being made on them. It is likely that a child in this situation will become more stressed as they burn themselves out trying to live up to your expectations.
You may put a damper on the child's self-esteem
Comparing your child can make them feel worthless. Feelings of low self-worth usually lead to self-doubt, and this makes children uncomfortable despite how well they are doing. This tends to follow them all the way into adulthood and into their professions.
They become withdrawn
Children may withdraw and begin to isolate themselves as they fear being put down before others. They also want to avoid any contact at all that could possibly expose them to more criticism.
You could destroy the parent-child relationship
A parent is supposed to protect and support a child, so when a child feels that the opposite is occurring, it could result in a strained relationship. The child may feel that you love them less than you do the other sibling(s); they may also feel that you are teaming up against them, even if your intention really is to motivate.
You could instigate jealousy
A child who is constantly compared to another sibling might begin to resent the sibling in question. This can be very dangerous, because the child is likely to develop feelings of jealousy which could spiral into hatred and other unhealthy emotions.
The child may become demotivated
It can be discouraging to work hard constantly, only to hear that someone else always does better than you. You realise that no matter how much you work you will never win, and your parents will always search the world to find someone who did better.