The Problem with Comparing Our Kids

Encouraging our children to strive for the better without putting them down
By Focus on the Family Singapore

Comparing ourselves with others is human nature – we want to know how our abilities and possessions match up with that of others. The question being asked is usually not "How am I doing?" but "How am I doing compared to Steve or Susan?" This begins even in childhood – a child measures himself against his peers, and assesses his ability, his competence and his worth based on how he matches up.

Why we compare

The biggest problem arises when parents get into the act too. We know we probably shouldn’t be comparing our children with other children, but sometimes it just happens. When our child comes back with a score of 90 on a test, we catch ourselves asking how her classmates did too. Ultimately, whether her score is considered “good” or “acceptable” depends on how difficult the test was, doesn’t it?

Many of us are constantly worrying about whether our children are doing well enough and whether we need to do more to help them succeed

In fact, this was the case for a mom who wondered in her recent Straits Times article whether she was falling into the “competitive parenting trap.” She rightly points out that the hardest thing about parenting is the uncertainty; many of us are constantly worrying about whether our children are doing well enough and whether we need to do more to help them succeed in school and in life. Due to this uncertainty, we find a strange comfort in finding out how our children stand in comparison to their peers, so that we can take appropriate action.

Consequences of comparison

Not all comparison is bad; sometimes there is value in our children seeing their peers perform better at something and hence striving to achieve that higher standard too. However, when we say things like, “I wish you could be more hardworking like Grace” or even “If only you had my brains and not your dad’s”, we are in fact subtly pointing out our children’s weakness and inadequacy. This may lead to jealousy of the friend or resentment towards the sibling they are being compared to, and also increases a sense of insecurity in the long run. They may feel like they are unable to measure up to your standard, leaving them with the constant need to prove themselves instead of feeling secure in their own skin. On the flip side, our children may also treat others with contempt because they think they are better than their friends.

Celebrate uniqueness

Every child is different, so we should value them for who they are created to be. Words have a powerful way of shaping our children’s self-image, therefore words used positively can be a miracle parenting tool. Rather than pointing out what they do not have, make the effort to compliment them on their positive traits, like their kindness, determination or creativity.

Instead of pointing out their weaknesses, focus on their effort and their willingness to try.

Of course, there will be areas your child can and should work on, and you can be their greatest cheerleader. Instead of pointing out their weaknesses, focus on their effort and their willingness to try. You could say something like “I really appreciate you working so hard to bring your Mathematics scores up.”

Children need to feel they are accepted without comparison. Let’s enjoy watching the uniqueness of each child as they develop their own special combination of talents and abilities.

© 2015 Focus on the Family Singapore Ltd. All rights reserved.

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