No two children are the same; they have different talents, interests, develop at different rates and have different strengths. As parents, it is essential to tread carefully as one can either build or break the confidence and self-esteem in one’s children.
At times children are over-focused on their perceived inequalities. They observe siblings at home or friends at school and wish they possessed the same athletic prowess, good looks, breath-taking achievements or musical talent. Although comparisons may help some children to decide what they hope to achieve and how to do it, for others, this process may lead to lower self-esteem, disappointment and may even lead to a dip in their motivational levels. As parents it is important to be aware of these negative effects and be cognizant as to how one can positively encourage one’s children in embracing their individual achievements.
Negative Effects of Comparing Your Child:
- Stress: Children feel pressurised if they are constantly, being compared to another child. Parents should be aware of pressurising one’s child to perform as this can at times make him anxious and lower his self-worth. It is important to discuss with your children if there is something bothering them, which is affecting their performance. Devise and find long-term solutions together with your child.
- Lowers Self-Esteem: Children may start believing that others are better than they are and that they are incapable of performing well or living up to the expectations of their parents. This perceived experience is damaging for personal and academic growth of one’s child.
- Lowers Self-Worth: Despite efforts, if children perceive or equate that parent’s or friend’s acceptance is dependent on performing well this can diminish their self – confidence.
- Shy away from Social Situations: Children may be consistently ridiculed or taunted by being compared, which may allow them to withdraw from social interactions with family and friends.
- Builds Carefree Attitude: If children’s talents or achievements are not acknowledged, then they may not even bother to please themselves anymore and adopt a laissez-faire attitude.
- Distances from you: Comparing children to their siblings, cousins, friends or neighbours may let children believe that something about them is unacceptable to you and you are unhappy with them. This may result in a child feeling insecure, losing trust in you, which may further develop into to developmental or behavioural problems as one’s child matures.
- Fosters Sibling Rivalry: When one compares rather than praises a child’s ability a child may secretly start disliking his own sibling/s. This may lead to siblings behaving aggressively, pick fights, teasing or even hitting each other.
A Positive Comparison Approach to Help Your Child
- Benchmark instead of comparing: Appreciate the effort, even if he secures two marks more than the previous exam. This builds the confidence in one’s child’s abilities.
- Set achievable SMART Goals: The acronym SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-Based goals. SMART goal setting creates verifiable trajectories towards a certain objective with clear milestones and an estimation of the goal’s attainabililty. Every goal or objective from an intermediary step to overarching objective can be made S.M.A.R.T. and as such, brought closer to reality. This can assist a child along the way and create awareness for him in realising that each small step forwards is a contribution towards achieving one’s end goal.
- Encourage your child to cope with any difficulties: Enquire whether your children may need any help and support. Encourage them to do their best and put their best efforts forward.
- Responding Rather than Reacting: Adults need to be aware of how they respond to their children in difficult situations or when they are having difficulties in achieving their goals. Parents may need to be consciously aware of their body language, tone of voice and verbal cues when communicating with their children as often children will pick up on these cues and perceive that they are upsetting or disappointing their parents
- Praise Strengths: No matter how children perform, appreciate and acknowledge their effort and not just the achievement or outcome
- Provide Unconditional Support and Love: Always support your children. Engage with them no matter what the situation is and love them unconditionally. There is no condition set for one to accept your children.
- Encourage differences and embrace them: Discuss differences in ability and personality within your family. It is important to let one’s child be aware that these differences are to be celebrated rather than be used in comparison of one another.
In conclusion, children feel ‘less than’ when they observe difference in their lower performance on achievement. Children need to be encouraged to take the risks and to try to aspire forwards in challenging themselves. It is essential to listen with empathy and to understand how your child may be feeling, to praise their continued efforts and to encourage and support them in difficult times.
While a comparison does not have to be a destructive practice, it at times may lead to depleted self-confidence and unhappiness. When we compare our children to others, we may run the risk of damaging our relationship with our child as well as lower their self-esteem.
By Kerri Evangelides, Educational Psychologist at Crawford Lonehill