As a parent to 3 kids, it’s easy to see the natural comparisons and rivalry that start from innate competition even when we don’t fuel it. Envy and coveting are instinctual from very young ages. When I see our kids comparing themselves to others, I often ask “Did YOU do YOUR best?”
In life there will always be someone faster, smarter, or better at something. When a child figures this out, especially when that someone is a sibling, they will often feel shame and can easily spiral. I can’t number the times in our parenting journey that we have had to intervene when this happens.
“Why is spelling so easy for her? Why is he so good at that? When will I be bigger so I can do that too?” These questions and others like them have been asked numerous times in our household.
Unfortunately, we’ve encountered this from other parents in sports related and educational settings. We’ve heard of parents paying their child if they beat or do better than a specific child in an event or academic competition. We have also seen and heard parents cheering their child on to beat another child. Things like this will breed more competition and a mindset of “I have to be THE best”. This creates a lot of pressure that can create perfectionistic tendencies and shame based thinking.
Healthy competition is a natural thing, but make sure we channel it into healthy areas for our child to be motivated to do THEIR best without always comparing themselves to everyone else.
Tips to incorporate a “Did you do YOUR best?” mindset in your home:
Encourage your child in the areas they are gifted
Building a child up in an area they excel in will help them see they have something that clicks for them. That they have a niche. When a child seems to struggle in all or most areas of life, it’s good to help them find something, even if it seems small.
“Drawing pictures seems to be so natural for you. You know how to put colors together so well. Great job!”
Don’t shame them in the areas that need improvement
We should guide our kids with feedback when they need to work on something. There are healthy and unhealthy ways to do this so you are teaching rather than shaming. Have a mindset of being on their team and come alongside them, rather than wagging your finger, nagging, or criticizing.
“It seems like math is overwhelming sometimes, let’s brainstorm together what needs to happen so it’s not so hard.”
Don’t compare your kids to their siblings or other kids
This can be easy to do without even realizing it. You want to make sure you acknowledge each of your kids in their individual giftings, but not in a way that it puts another child down. For example, hang an assignment or picture from each child on the fridge, not just the A+.
” Wow! I am so proud of how each of you didn’t give up and worked so hard.”
Focus more on character than performance
This is an area to be really intentional and can be a game changer for kids. When you focus on their character and not their productivity or accomplishment, you start to help a child see that it’s the inside that matters more than what they did. Perseverance when something is hard; kindness when someone didn’t deserve it; selflessness when they wanted to be selfish; empathy when someone is upset and hurting. etc. All of these, and many more, are important for you to point out.
“I really saw your tender heart as you went to help your sister when she was upset. That was so kind of you to love her in that way.”
Say “I’m proud of you” when they try their best- even when it wasn’t THE best
Say things like “I saw you work so hard at that. I know you were doing your best and you didn’t give up.” Or “It feels good to try hard and know we did our best, doesn’t it? I’m proud of you.” Even when a child doesn’t win or get the top grade, you want to make sure they hear and see that their efforts are seen and matter.
Find the right time and way to offer non-critical feedback
When a child is down on himself, it’s not a good time to heap on a lecture or criticism. You want to wait for the right moment when they can actually hear what you’re saying and internalize the message.
“I was thinking, let’s go out and practice free throws tonight after dinner to get some more practice in.” Instead of “You need to work harder at your shots so you make more in the next game.” The first example is you being a teammate, encouraging, and guiding them.
Parenting is hard and tricky for sure. I hope someone of these ideas help you fuel a healthy mindset that helps your child do things with excellence and not as a perfectionist who is always comparing himself to others.
How do you encourage your child to not compare?