Comparing your child to everyone. Compare if you must but don't judge. Part 1

So, you did it again? You compared your child to his friends, his sibling, and the icing on the cake- you compared him with your own self at that age as if you were the best gift to humankind then. Really? Were you?
Our parents did to us; their parents did to them. Now we, the educated generation a-z (whichever alphabetical generation we belong to never got that logic, though), the pseudo ‘KOOL’ parent do it too. This time it’s well wrapped, sugar-coated, and sophisticatedly used. The dialogue has changed from-

Dekho Pandey ji ke beta ko. Kuch samajh mein aata hai? Dekho kahan se kahan pahunch gaya aur ek tum ho ki bas khel khel. Zara seekho kuch. Sab kuch to kar rahe hain tumhare liye, phir bhi …” Said in the rawest form…so thorny that it actually pricked the heart.
(Look at Mr. Pandey's son. Do you understand? See his accomplishments and look at where you are? We are doing everything for you, but you are such a wastrel.)

Look at how we have polished our words now- “I see you are putting a lot of effort in learning that dance form. I am glad you like it, but academics are also important. Have you seen how your sister balances her music and studies? It’s good to learn from others.”

Yes. It’s good to learn from others, but there isn’t much learning that happens when that ‘other’ is exalted to a status much higher than yours, given praise and attention, and you are made to feel like a loser in front of him. No, truly, I mean it. 'Loser' is the word.  And the loser is the problem.

You cannot learn when that other is your very own sibling but given a reward for scoring good marks, and you are left out with a reprimand.
And for sure, if that other happens to be your own very father, you start to question your own biological connection.

The essential question here is -Why do we compare?
Because we have an inner need to determine our own social and personal worth based on how do we measure up and stack against ‘others.’

Leon Festinger Social Comparison Theory goes a long way in explaining why comparisons happen to start with. He mentioned his hypotheses in his book entitled Social Comparison that “there exist, in the human organism, a drive to evaluate his opinions and abilities.” People get a sense of validity and cognitive clarity by comparing themselves in significant domains against an objective benchmark provided by the individuals they are comparing themselves with. And this validity makes them get the answer to ‘where am I in life’ because, without these, they pretty much feel lost. 

And we engage in constant self-evaluation across various domains such as intelligence, success, attractiveness, and CHILDREN.

This piece is not about comparisons in general but the comparison in the domain of the child-parent relationship. It's unhealthy, and it’s never going to get the better of anyone.

Think about for a moment: Did you spend your childhood being forever compared? I did because I was always the better one against my younger sibling, which never made me feel good. Ironical. But why would an older sibling feel good when her younger sibling, whom she loves so much, is being compared to her and her accomplishments and made to feel lesser or poorer?

Love doesn’t work that way. And sometimes it does too. The older or, the better off sibling lives with a grand perception of self and becomes inconsiderate when dealing with the ‘lesser’ sibling.

Why create grandeur around one sibling and brand the other as ‘don’t know how he became like this.'

Some children temperamentally shove off such demeaning comparisons and move on. Still, some children are sensitive and do not have the social skills and impulse control to keep their envy and social comparisons quiet. Their self-image, self-esteem, and self-identity are based more on what ‘me vis a vis the other’ instead of ‘me vis a vis the better me.’

How do we compare?

In a manner that always puts the ‘self’ in an uncomfortable zone.

Upward comparison happens when the person compares himself with others who are better than him. In contrast, downward comparison proposes that the individual inclines to compare himself with another who is worse.

Parents tend to engage in upward comparisons almost all the time. “Look at him.”

The consequences?

Children do not have the social skills or emotional maturity to assess what’s going on truly. Parents need to understand what they are achieving out of comparisons.
Is the child feeling positive emotions or going through envy and jealousy?
Is the child feeling motivated to reach the level of that ‘other’ or is more determined to hurt the parent just how they have hurt him?
These are real-life scenarios, and comparing a child to his friend, sibling, or parent figure doesn’t make it easy for the child.

Because parents compare and form opinions, look for examples to reaffirm their opinion, and then pass a judgment. IT IS THIS JUDGEMENT THAT IS DAMAGING.

You hit not only the child’s self-esteem but also his drive to do better. You bring them up in an atmosphere of ‘comparisons,’ and all their life they engage in unhealthy comparisons and subject themselves to the feeling of inferiority and guilt.

Can you do away with comparisons? 
Learn to manage ‘comparisons’ effectively with children.

Sibling to sibling- You have two children, and both bring their uniqueness to your world. Try to engage in their uniqueness and revel in it. One might bring you ‘academic joy,’ and the other brings you ‘musical joy.’ Both of them would, at times, put you through not so joyful or thrilling experiences. Refrain from becoming the reason for sibling rivalry.

When comparing your child to your friend’s child- This can get really tricky because we have no idea about what’s going on in someone else’s family. You may like a certain aspect of that child, but please remember that children tend to behave better and more desirable with people other than their own parents. What if the child came to you and said- "his dad is from MIT. He has the genes of a ‘genius.’ How would that make you feel?

As a parent
Be Mindful- Many times; comparisons happen unconsciously. Make a conscious choice to refrain from comparisons, or when you do, you do it without passing judgments. Your idea is to motivate and inspire the child and not leave him feeling ‘lowly’ and envious.
Adopting a more realistic view of your child and ‘others’Just because he is your child doesn’t mean he must always be ‘perfect’; in every field and match up to your expectations. That’s a criminal expectation to start with. Having academic success is important, but if your child has his interest somewhere else, you can keep comparing him to the IIT’s and MIT’s of the world; it will not make any difference. You are the KOOL parent. If you don’t respect him and understand him, who will? 

Cultivate gratitude for the child you have in your life- This sounds beautiful and easier said than done. All the more when a friend’s child has competed GATE(Gifted and Talented Education Program), and your child is nowhere near that gate. But But But…. make a conscious choice to respect your unique child and be thankful. Many parents don’t have what you have.
Redirect your thoughts- When you find yourself engaging in harmful comparisons, redirect your thoughts to your child's positive traits and all that he means to you. Compliment your child for those qualities and help him build his self-esteem.

Focus on the strengths of your child instead of the weaknesses. Your child is half full. Why to always look at him half empty? How would it make you feel if your manager treated you like that?

Compare the right way- Do it every day when you cuddle with him at night. Ask him- How did your school go today? Did you learn anything new? How was your day a better one than yesterday? How is your math coaching going on? We need to get better than last time.
It’s called- Helping him become the best of what he can, being his own competitor. By comparing him to others, you are setting a standard of excellence. What if he is meant to be beyond that standard? Aren’t you limiting him then? What if he is meant to be of a different standard? Aren’t you suppressing him? Food for thought.
“The trouble 

with being in the rat race is that even if you win, you're still a rat.”  Lily Tomlin
You are a parent. Your communication channel should be of the kind that your child thinks of ‘YOU’ first before anyone else. Only you can give him that ease, that comfort, and that love.


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