Parents should avoid trap of comparing their children to others
BY COLLEEN ALMEIDA SMITH World Associate Editor
Monday, October 22, 2012
10/22/12 at 6:27 AM
Because I Said So is a blog written by six parents and one grandparent. They explore the ins and outs of parenting every day.
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Comparing children works against parents.
We know comparing children is wrong, so why can't we stop?
Whether sibling or friends, the questions can start off innocently: At what age did your kid's teeth come in? Why is she shorter than her sister at the same age? When did he start potty training? The answers can help parents prepare for milestones or gauge children's development.
But when the questions turn into accusations ("Your daughter hasn't learned to juggle yet?" "How long has your son been taking piano lessons? My little one could play Mozart at his age."), it's time to stop the comparisons.
In a recent episode of "Switched at Birth" on ABC Family channel (my family's favorite show), the conversation at a dinner party revolves around one couple bragging about their sons' extracurricular activities and how they will help on their college applications. The parents of the main characters retreat to the kitchen and question themselves about their own children's accomplishments.
But this isn't the first time we've seen these parents compare their children to each other or to peers. Throughout the two seasons that the TV show has been on, it has been a common theme.
The premise of the show is that two girls are born on the same day in a Kansas City hospital. One is the child of a wealthy, former baseball-star-turned-businessman and his stay-at-home wife. The other is the daughter of an unmarried mother who works as a hairstylist and who is in a long-term relationship with the father. The girls are switched in the hospital and go home with the wrong families. When the girls are 16, the mistake is discovered.
The comparisons between the teenagers begin almost immediately - from hair color and skin tone to artistic ability and maturity. And the more the parents ask "Why can't you be more like her?," the more the girls want to be nothing like each other.
It's a trap that we as parents can fall in too often. Whether it is comparing our children to their friends ("Jeff makes such good grades. I bet his parents don't have to nag him to do his homework.") or to their siblings ("Did you see Meg score that goal? If you practice, you can be just as good as your sister."), it is tempting to do. We tell ourselves that we are trying to point out examples for our children to follow, but that's not what they hear.
As soon as the comparisons start, our children just tune us out. They don't hear that we want them to be better, they only hear that they're not good enough. It takes away our credibility as parents because they feel we don't see them as unique people with their own interests, talents and problems. And it fans the flames of sibling rivalry.
The next time you're tempted to throw someone out there for your child to emulate, take a deep breath and back off.
If you don't, you should be prepared for the rolling of eyes or - even worse - to hear, "Why can't you be more like Sam's mom? She never compares him to anyone!"
Colleen Almeida Smith 918-581-8481