OMG – Please Don’t Compare

Why is it ok to compare your kids to others?

“I am the king of the jungle”, the lion said.  He was probably right. But what if there was another lion in the same jungle who proclaimed himself to be the king. How would other animals in the jungle decide who would be the better king?  They will have to compare them

Comparison is all around us. We gleefully compare houses, jobs, stocks, education etc, but when we think of comparing our kids to others, we think we are putting our kids down and touting someone else’s achievements.  We believe that comparing our kids to others will result in their lowered self-esteem and confidence. This is because we have an incomplete picture of what “compare” means.

The dictionary defines compare as “a means to estimate, measure, or note the similarity or dissimilarity between”. So when we compare, we need to compare both where the other child is better and where the other child is worse than our child. Not just where our child is worse. The truth is that there is always someone who is better or worse than us in certain things. If there are some kids who are accomplishing more than ours, then there are also some who are accomplishing less.

It is true that we can tell how a child is doing without comparing them to others. But if we do compare, we may realize the real potential of our child.  Children can reach amazing heights at a very young age. But to us parents, they are little babies and it is beyond our comprehension that this baby who was so little that s/he could sleep on our arm, can accomplish more than we may have accomplished to date.

Comparing informs us of the competition that our child is going to face outside of the home. It gives us a realistic view of how our child stacks up against other children. It prepares us and our child for the possibilities and probabilities of where the child sees himself or herself in the future.

Competition is very important in order for us to excel.  Sitting by ourselves, smug in our accomplishments is not going to motivate us to excel beyond our dreams.  If Steve Jobs and Bill Gates did not have competition, do you really think they would have succeeded in bringing about the products that would have been unimaginable a few decades ago? Do you know when Steve Jobs was broke, Bill Gates lent him money to keep the competition going. This is because he knew that he will lose his edge if he had no one to compete with.

A horse never runs so fast as when he has other horses to catch up and outpace. –Ovid

The real problem is not about comparing kids, but about parents letting their inner competitiveness come through.  When their friends do good, kids are generally happy for them. It is only when the kids are bombarded with their parents competitive and aggressive attitude, that their behavior changes negatively towards themselves and their friends.

It is therefore important to not constantly nag your kids with comparisons. When comparing, moderation is the key. Know that each child is gifted.  As a parent, you and your child both need to find your child’s strengths. You need to be a supporter of your child, not a disparager. Your goal in comparing is not to put your child down but to lift them up. The conversation needs to be “That kid is doing good. You can too”  rather than “That kid is doing good. How come you are not? “

We cannot experience everything in our life ourselves. We learn from others. We watch movies, read books, discuss with others as we grapple with how best to meander through the course of our life. Comparing our kids to others is very similar to this learning. It provides us and our kids with a benchmark on what is and is not possible.  We may not even realize what our kids can accomplish unless we hear of someone else their age doing so. Our only experience with child-rearing is the way we and the others around us were brought up. But the world is very large and there are innumerable ways of raising children.

While there are many books on parenting out there, it is very tedious and time-consuming to read them all.  Besides, most times these books and magazines do not provide us with the guidance we are looking for. To be fair to their authors, every child is different and even though these books might enlighten us about the general principles around raising children, every child needs to be tended differently.

Another place we often turn to in figuring out how best to raise our kids is by reading or seeking information about successful people. It provides us with knowledge about what qualities the famous people have, what opportunities were available to them, and what accomplishments they had in their childhood.  We may then attempt to provide a similar environment for our kids.

Just as knowing about the life of accomplished people informs us of the potential there is within each of us, comparing our children to others their age motivates and inspires both us and our kids to reach the same zenith. It motivates parents to do so their part in helping their children to achieve. Simultaneously, it motivates children to do well in their field so that they can shine in their parent’s eyes as they perceive others are doing. Whether you believe it or not and whether they make it obvious or not, every child wants to be a star in their parent’s eyes.

By and large, children reach up to their parents and teachers expectations.  This reach could be in either direction, upwards or downwards. Substantiating this is that in general, students of strict teachers do better than of lenient teachers and children of parents who have high expectations of them accomplish much more.

However, having high expectations is not enough. A parent needs to provide their child with guidance, support, and opportunities so that the child is successful in realizing his or her potential. If the parents are not able to do so, then it is unfair for them to compare their child to others as it will only lead to unhappiness for them and for you.

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