Comparing your child to his siblings or peers can have negative consequences. Or, you can do it the right way…

Ever found yourself telling your child to “look at” what another child is doing? What about asking him why he can’t be more like his sibling?

You aren’t alone if you compare your child with another ― often, it’s really hard not to do so. One main reason parents do this is to challenge their kids to “improve”, and also, to instil a sense of competition, so as to motivate junior to conform to the “ideal” behaviour. Explains Dr Yang Chien-Hui, a senior lecturer at the Early Childhood Education Programme at SIM University, “They use it as an educational moment to push their child to work harder, since their preaching at home hasn’t worked.”

Another reason why parents compare is to grade or label the child. You may have heard a mother saying “This is my sensible child. Her brother? That’s the wild one.” This is often the parents’ way of setting the standard for desirable behaviour, then trying to place where their child sits along the curve.

Dr Yang adds that comparing is prevalent in Asian culture, where parents “use comparison as social tact to ‘give face’ or praise the other party”. For instance, when a mum tells another, “Wow your daughter won the piano competition ― how wonderful! My daughter doesn’t want to practise, she just wants to play all day.”

Comparing is prevalent in Asian culture, where parents “use comparison as social tact to ‘give face’ or praise the other party”.

Negative effects

Dr Yang notes that one-sided comparisons can make your child feel like he is being judged negatively, and that his own parents have an unfavourable perception of him. If the comparison is between siblings, he may even feel that his parents prefer his sibling over him, or that they don’t think he is valuable. “If the comparisons happen frequently, the children may feel less confident about who they are, and their capabilities,” Dr Yang points out.

This may cause several adverse effects:

* Lower self-esteem If you constantly compare your child to other kids who seem to fare better, he’ll gradually believe that he is inferior to others. If he’s labelled as the “lazier one” or the “one who can never sit still”, he may just quit as he thinks it’s easier to fall into that perceived role, locking him in that behaviour.

* Feelings of stress Picture this, your child has done all he can to get a B in his English paper. Instead of praising him for his efforts, you compare him to a child who has gotten an A. This can cause him overwhelming stress and anxiety.

* Social anxiety Once your child’s self-esteem has taken a hit, he can become shy and be unwilling to connect with others, since he’ll think he has nothing to offer or be proud of. Worse, he may use aggression against his peers, since he’ll harbour negative feelings towards those with whom is he constantly being compared to.

* Impact on parent-child bond Your child may withdraw from you because he feels that you’re disappointed with him, and this may cause you both to drift apart.



How to do it right

It’s the actions that are taken after you make the comparison that matters most, not the actual comparing, notes Associate Professor Cheah Horn Mum, dean of the School of Human Development & Social Services at SIM University. “Comparing as a precursor to encouragement to excel is not a bad thing, as long as it doesn’t lead to unrealistic expectations and consequent disappointments.”

The key is to encourage your child after you make the contrast. Don’t just concentrate on one aspect (academic performance, for example) where Child A doesn’t do as well as Child B. Make sure to point out another area (such as being helpful and kind) in which Child A does better than Child B.

Ask him what he thinks he has done well in and what he can do differently next time.

Dr Yang says, “This gives a balanced comparison to both children. It’s a good educational opportunity for the children to know that they each have a set of unique strengths and weaknesses, and that there are actions that they can take to improve themselves.”

Evaluate his behaviour together

Discuss with your child what he thinks about his performance or behaviour. Ask him what he thinks he has done well in and what he can do differently next time. Says Dr Yang, “In other words, guide him to self-evaluate and self-manage his behaviour.”

You should also guide your child to set goals and action plans for himself. Such discussions will help your child become independent, as well as motivate him to learn and achieve more.

So, instead of trying to fit your child into a certain standard and comparing him against that benchmark, make an effort to see his strengths. Only then can you know who he truly is, and what he needs in order to grow.

Photo: iStock

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