|No Comparisons, Please!
by SARA AHMAD
Here we explain why we tend to compare our children and why we should stop doing it
Comparing a child to their siblings, or to other kids, is one thing that parents claim they'll never do. But when your offspring aren't performing as expected, or acting as desired, it's easy to speak before you think.
By doing so we are actually damaging their self-esteem by expressing our frustration in this way. Here, we explain how those evaluations can affect your child's personality and their relationships and suggest how to get the best out of your boy or girl without pitching them against their peers.
Why We Compare
Insecurity concerning the parenting skills and a desire to give the offspring the best opportunities, or those chances that parents didn't have growing up, can be behind their tendency to compare. Parents usually compare their children in order to check that they're doing what they need to do. Competition is emphasised in our society, so from an early age we want to make sure our children are achieving at an appropriate level. We sometimes feel that if our children are out-performing others, it reflects our skill as parents and we may feel a level of satisfaction from this.
The enormous emphasis these days on being a perfect parent can trigger a comparison crisis which starts with contrasting birth stories and continues into mothers' group.
The Need To Succeed
When a mum from school brags about her son's 'giftedness' or your child continually gets picked last for sports teams, it's tempting to lash out with an unfair comparison and enroll them in every available extracurricular activity to give them a boost.
It's okay to have aspirations for our kids, as they are carving out their own identities and we must help develop who they are. Recognise what your child is interested in and encourage that, rather than trying to fit them into a particular mould. And, sure, there will be some pre-school children who are desperate about reading, for instance, but all the research shows there's no advantage in trying to tutor children more quickly. However, all babies will benefit from having books read to them from a few months of age.
How Is Your Child Affected?
A child who feels they are unfavourably rated against other children can react in different ways, none of them positive. They may act out, or misbehave, to show their unhappiness with you. Or they might feel like they're never good enough, or good at anything, and may stop trying. They may also begin avoiding situations where they're going to be compared to other kids.
The biggest risk, however, is that a child will feel that they have to be perfect and that mistakes are not okay. Then a child might become very cautious about taking any risk or will turn a bad performance into a bigger deal than it is. They may also be more susceptible to anxiety, stress and depression down the track.
Constant comparisons, both negative and positive, will also have a direct impact on their relationship with you. If you're always talking them up, such as, 'Sonia's a shoo-in for selective school,' "they might lose their faith in your judgment because you always think they can do no wrong. But constantly giving our children the message that they aren't as good as someone else, or that we wish they were more like someone else, is also undermining. Because who, if not your parents, should believe in you? If you feel like they aren't noticing when you're doing things well or comparing you in a negative light, then you're never going to feel like they're in your corner.
The ante is upped, of course, when the evaluations are centred on their siblings. When parents compare siblings, particularly when a child is compared on things they can't change, they're going to feel that one sibling is preferred over the other. And kids won't take it out on their parents; they'll take it out on the brother or sister in question.
We know it's wrong, so why do we fall into the trap of saying things like, 'Your brother was an amazing soccer player at your age'? "What we're often trying to do is motivate our child, but we end up achieving the opposite. Our child thinks, 'What's the point of trying if I'm not as good as my brother?
Not only are we potentially setting up a damaging sibling rivalry but, ironically, we've limited our child's potential just the opposite of what we set out to do. It's important, too, that children understand they can do things just for fun, you can enjoy whacking a drum, for example, without needing to be a musician.
Help Your Child To Thrive
Here we explain how to use comparison the right way
1. Be Kind And Encouraging
Tell your child three things they're doing well before focusing on the one thing you don't think is going so well. If your child knows that you love and accept them for who they are, they'll be more likely to change things that aren't working so well.
2. Focus On The Big Picture
Does it really matter if your son or daughter is not at the top of their reading group, or if they're not achieving at the expected level for their age? If your child is generally doing what they should be and is happy, then relax.
3. Use Positive Comparisons
Help your child identify that everyone is different and we all have things we need to work on. For example, telling your child that 'Bouncing a basketball is a bit trickier for you than your brother, however, you're really good at kicking goals,' is a positive comparison."
4. Cheer Others On
It's alright for your child to compare themselves to others, but they also have to give credit. This way your child will learn that it's okay not to be the best, and to enjoy their friend's and siblings' successes.