Activities with Kids

Is it okay to compare my child with other people’s kids?

Holly Pigache  |   10 Sep 2023

It’s tempting, isn’t it, to compare your kids with other people’s kids?

But how helpful is it really to compare your child’s progress or behaviour against other children?  Does it do your kids any good?  Does it help you parent better?  Should you compare your child to other people’s children?  If not, how do you stop?

When I was a teacher, I often heard playground chatter about who’s the top of the class and who is struggling.  The discussion wasn’t amongst children, it was amongst parents.

Parents can be very competitive when it comes to their child’s development, academic progress and talents.  And who can blame them?  All parents want the best from their children and it can be helpful to compare a child’s progress against their peers.  Well, helpful to an extent – but mainly it will drive you bonkers.

At The Ribbon Box (sign up for our new newsletter), we reject the pressure to be the “perfect parent” and have the “perfect children”.

Read on to find out when a comparison between children is helpful, when it’s not and how to stop it from driving you up the wall.

A little healthy comparison?

We’ve all been in situations where a little comparison has helped.  When you were young, the girl next to you in the Sports Day race was running jolly fast.  What did you do?  You found the oomph to pick up the pace.  How about when you were applying for jobs and the other person beat you to it?  You found out how they clinched the job, embarked on a path of self-development and hey presto, the next job was yours!

Comparison to others can be helpful when the comparison is of our own volition, is internalised and acts as an intrinsic motivator.  Often, we feel so much worse when someone else overtly compares us with others – isn’t that the premise much of school bullying is based upon?

And whilst I’m not suggesting a parents’ comparison between their own child and other people’s children is a form of bullying – God, no – it can elicit similar responses in your child.

How Social Comparison Can Harm Your Child

How social comparison can harm your child

By-and-large, social comparison between your child and other people’s kids isn’t helpful.  Here’s why:

  • Hinders your child’s confidence in social interactions – If Mum thinks Rocco is doing better in Maths than me, does Rocco think that?  It’s safer to avoid Rocco on the playground…
  • Can harm friendships your child has worked so hard to build – Dad said Mia got 9/10 in her spellings.  I only got 4/10, does that mean Mia won’t want to be friends with me anymore?
  • Suppresses your child’s talents – Mum said she’ll stop my Judo classes if I don’t move up two book bands… but I love Judo and I’m nearly on my yellow belt!
  • Encourages defeatism in your child – All Dad cares about is spellings.  I’m never going to be as good at Mia, so why bother?
  • Causes your child (and you!) undue stress – I’m practising phonics soooo hard but Mrs Crouch still isn’t moving me up a book band!  Mum’s going to cancel Judo.
  • Diminishes your child’s self-esteem – Dad never says “well done” when I bring home a picture, he probably thinks I’m a rubbish drawer.
  • The same issues occur when you compare siblings and comparison adds to sibling rivalry.  For the sake of a peaceful home life, avoid sibling comparisons.

If you think these are exaggerated responses, they’re not.  I heard variations of these scenarios from five-year-olds in my class (sadly, on a regular basis).

What to do Instead of Comparing Your Child to Other People’s Kids.

What to do instead of comparing your child to other people’s kids

  1. First, praise them – children can never have too much praise.  Focus the praise on your child and the effort they exerted, not on their result.  Don’t feel like you can’t say “well done” for a 2/10 spelling test result?  You can.  Tell them you’re sure they tried their best (if they didn’t, this very subtle guilt trip said in a positive way will encourage them to try a bit harder next time.  Take a teacher’s word for it…).  Children who struggle with intrinsic motivation (the kind that comes from within that isn’t accompanied by promises of a new PlayStation game or a new toy) will fare much better from praise than from reprimanding.  Praise the small things – praise the tiny things if you have to – and eventually, you’ll be praising the Big Things.
  2. If you and your child feel up to it, think of ways they could do better next time.  Don’t have this conversation after every spelling test (they scored 9/10 for goodness sake!), every playdate (even the closest of friends bicker at school and other kids’ houses) or every Little Singers showcase (your child stood up in front of other kids and adults and sang – who cares if they were out of tune?  How courageous.)  Make sure the points for improvement are outweighed by the positive points – otherwise you will effectively undo all the praise you’ve just lavished on.
  3. Set realistic expectations and goals.  Your son may never get 10/10 in his spellings (blimey, Holly goes on about spellings a lot…), so set a realistic goal of getting 5/10 for most of the term.  Give him a reward if he manages to beat this!  (Extrinsic motivation, or let’s call it bribery, has its moments.)
  4. Appreciate your child’s strengths and talents.  Success is so much more than academia – if only mainstream school systems would recognise this.  As a parent, show interest and wonder at how great your daughter is at skateboarding and how talented your son is at being kind to everyone.  This is especially important in families; children should be recognised for their idiosyncrasies.
  5. Help your child develop their weaknesses.  Dedicate time each week to practising spellings (don’t leave them to practise on their own), read with your child and encourage them to sound out and blend the phonemes to read the word, explicitly teach acts of kindness if needed.

A small step to save your sanity

When you spend less time comparing your child to other people’s kids, you’ll feel like a better parent and your relationship with your child will develop.  Ultimately, you and your child will be happier and feel more confident, as isn’t that what we want for our kids?

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