Comparing kids to their siblings may do more harm than good

Comparing kids to their siblings may do more harm than good

 Parents, take note! If you often compare your kids to one another, you may be hampering their academic performance.

Parents should be careful about comparing their kids to their siblings, suggests a new study which found that parents' beliefs about their children, and not just actual parenting, may influence who their kids become.

Brigham Young University (BYU) professor and lead author of the study Alex Jensen found that the child who is seen as less smart by the parents will tend to do worse academically in comparison to their sibling.

The study focused on siblings and academic achievement and looked at 388 teenage first- and second-born siblings and their parents from 17 school districts in a northeastern state of Utah.

The researchers asked the parents which sibling was better in school. The majority of parents thought that the firstborn was better, although on an average, siblings' achievement was pretty similar.

Parents' beliefs about sibling differences were not influenced by past grades, instead future grades of the teenagers were influenced by their parents' beliefs.

The child who the parents believed was smarter tended to do better in the future, while the child parents believed was less capable, tended to do relatively poorer the next year.

Specifically, that belief translated to a 0.21 difference in Grade point average (GPA) among study participants, the researchers said.

"That may not sound like much. But over time those small effects have the potential to turn into siblings who are quite different from one another," Jensen said.

Jensen cautioned parents about a chicken-and-egg scenario here. By the time siblings reach the teenage years, parents may have formed their beliefs about the children's relative smartness from years of experiences.

So when parents compare adolescent siblings to each other, it may be based on differences that have existed for years.

"A mom or dad may think that oldest sibling is smarter because at any given time they are doing more complicated subjects in school," Jensen said.

"The firstborn likely learned to read first, to write first, and that places the thought in the parent's mind that they are more capable, but when the siblings are teenagers it leads to the siblings becoming more different," Jensen said.

"Ultimately, the sibling who is seen as less smart will tend to do worse in comparison to their sibling," Jensen said.

The one exception in the study was when the firstborn was a brother and the second-born a sister. In that case, parents believed the sister was more academically competent.

"It's hard for parents to not notice or think about differences between their children, it's only natural," Jensen said.

"But to help all children succeed, parents should focus on recognising the strengths of each of their children and be careful about vocally making comparisons in front of them," Jensen said.

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