Guest Post by Dr. Kara Powell: Four Parenting Steps to Avoid Sibling Comparison This School Year

JB Note:  We at Homeword are fans of the Sticky Faith family resources emerging from the Fuller Youth Institute. In the midst of their new Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family book and Sticky Faith Family Training video curriculum, we are thrilled to partner with Dr. Kara Powell from the Fuller Youth Institute to offer your family new and practical ideas to make your school year the best one yet.
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“And the award goes to … Jon Quinones.”

Jon’s mom, Kimberly, grabbed her cell phone camera as quickly as she could. She wanted to shoot footage of Jon walking across the stage at his eighth grade graduation as he received the award for overall excellence.

After the ceremony, Jon and his entire family headed to Jon’s favorite Italian restaurant to celebrate. But Emma, Jon’s sixth grade sister, was a fight waiting to happen. First she picked an argument with Kimberly over radio volume. Then she complained–and complained–about the restaurant Jon had chosen. When she couldn’t find anything else to complain about to Kimberly, she moved on to her younger sister.

Emma was grumpy for the first thirty minutes at the restaurant. Needless to say, their “graduation lunch” for Jon wasn’t exactly what they had pictured. Kimberly was mystified by this sudden turn in Emma.

On the drive home, Kimberly finally discovered why. Alone with only her mom in the car, Emma groaned, “Mom, I feel so much pressure. How can I measure up to Jon?”

Kimberly answered, “Emma, no one is putting that kind of pressure on you. Your dad and I never compare you. You’re the only one that feels that sort of pressure.”

“Then why did the middle school teacher sitting in front of us at Jon’s graduation turn around and whisper to me, ‘No pressure,’ after Jon got the award?”

What?!?

Kimberly wanted to turn the car around, head back to her kids’ school, stomp into that teacher’s classroom, and demand, “Why in the world would you put so much pressure on a sibling?”

As Kimberly described how Emma didn’t feel like she measured up to Jon, my mind flashed to the section of The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family that has garnered the most heated feedback from parents. According to a recent study of 156 members of 25 different families, one of the common themes in children who walk away from their parents’ faith was that they thought their parents played favorites.1

Note that what mattered wasn’t whether the parents thought they played favorites. What mattered was whether or not the kids perceived favoritism.

As your family dives into the back to school season, you might not be able to control the presumably well-intentioned adults who thrust unwanted comparisons on your kids. But you can say goodbye to the toxic messages and habits you’ve unwittingly developed.

Based on our research on family faith and sibling dynamics, some of the new habits Dave and I follow in our own home are:

  1. We never compare our kids in front of our kids. Ever. Statements like, “Why can’t you keep your room as clean as your brother?” Or, “I wish you tried as hard in swimming as your sister” can leave a bigger mark on our kids than we imagine.
  2. We try not to make comparisons among our kids even when it’s just the two of us. Each of our kids is remarkable in their own way. Our job is to figure out how to bring out their remarkable-ness, not wonder why one kid isn’t as hard working or obedient as the other. Plus, the more I do something when I’m not around my kids, the more likely it is that I accidentally do it in front of them. I’m just not that skilled at playing different parts in different theatres of action.
  3. We try to affirm our kids’ abilities when their siblings aren’t around. We review our kids’ report cards one at a time, in our living room with the doors closed. If our kids want to share their grades with each other, they can, but we don’t.
  4. We track how much time we’re spending supporting each kids’ activities. Two of our kids play volleyball, and often have daylong tournaments. After a string of those, we make the effort to spend extra time with our third child, doing things that are important to her. We never want her to feel like her siblings get our prime attention and she gets the leftovers.

What are you doing in your family this school year to help squelch favoritism and relieve sibling pressure?

1Vern L Bengtson, Norella M Putney and Susan Harris, Families and Faith (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013): 229–30

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Jim Burns

Jim Burns

Jim Burns is the President of HomeWord. He speaks to thousands of people around the world each year. He has close to 2 million resources in print in 30 languages. He primarily writes and speaks on the values of HomeWord which are: Strong Marriages, Confident Parents, Empowered Kids, and Healthy Leaders. Some of his most popular books are: Confident Parenting, The Purity Code, Creating an Intimate Marriage and Closer. Jim and his wife, Cathy live Southern California and have three grown daughters, Christy, Rebecca and Heidi.

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