“Comparenting:” 5 Tips for Parents to Finally Stop Comparing Their Kids
As parents of 5 children, we know that all 5 are completely different. If we follow a Fred Roger’s mindset, all of our kids are special. Unicorns.
But what if we look at them scientifically; examine the disparate parts of each of them that reveal their individuality? And what if we, instead of comparing, embraced their separateness—their originality?
Understanding why parents compare is essential so that conscious preventative measures can be put into place: (Cue in bumper sticker: “My child is an honor student at North Haven Elementary.”)
Whether a two-parent household, single-parent, or blended family—where remarriage brings same-age and gender kids to the family unit—keeping parental minds clear and confident is daunting. Comparing kids seems to sneak in, amid laundry piles, food-smudged breakfast plates, and the witnessing of freshly-attired children in the school carpool line.
Often parents compare their offspring to one another in addition to their children’s cousins and peers. And the only source of comparison for parents of one child, is outside the family nucleus. Comparenting occurs at the bus stop, the soccer fields, the office, on social media, and at social gatherings.
Parents compare because we all compare.
Comparison is wired into our biological brains. Our minds are continually working to sort and problem solve, and unfortunately, comparison is one tactic we use to logically make decisions and gain value in our lives.
And comparing our children—those treasured beings whom we love most in the world—gives comparison a whole lot of power in how we make meaning in our lives.
Here are 5 ways kids notice when their parents compare them to a sibling or peer, and what parents can do to prevent comparenting:
1. Subliminal messaging. Kids can see through the veil of authenticity and truth…your truth. These silent messages, sent unwittingly. The dad on the soccer field who smiles and cheers when his kid’s best friend steals the ball and breaks away down the field. Who at the end of the game, tussles his kid’s damp head, and says, “Good game, Colin.” Only Colin knows—and feels— that that is an empty praise, because he witnessed his dad cheering for Jason, his best friend.
Solution: Parents: develop conscious awareness of your behavior when your kid is in group of their peers. Even though your stomach lurches a bit when the same (other) kid is also lauded for being the valedictorian, MVP, and Community Service winner, resist the dangerous urge to compare. Pause and redirect your own inner thoughts to the blocked kick on goal that Colin masterfully executed, and praise the heck out of that.
2. Energy sponges. Our kids pick up on their parents’ positive—and negative—energy. If one child is more outgoing than their sibling, a parent with the same energy type may respond more fluidly and animatedly than to the child who is more reserved. The quieter child could erroneously perceive this “lessened energy” as less loving.
Solution: Parents: know your Myers Briggs and the personality preferences of your children. When you have this knowledge, you can adapt and even customize your responses to your child that will open a deep and loving connection for all of you.
3. No honorable mention. When a child overhears their parent gush to another adult about their pride in another sibling’s accomplishment and there’s crickets when the parent has gone through all of the children except one. Wracking their brain to find something worthwhile to mention to their friend, they come up with a generic 3-word platitude, like: “Kylie is great.” And then the parent immediately shifts the conversation.
Solution: Parents: Pick three things about your child that you find amazing to remind yourself and others of why you are so proud and inspired by your child. Repeat often ☺
4. (Warning, cringe-worthy): WCYBLD? “Why can’t you be like Devin?” This is one of the most damaging questions a parent can ask their child. Not only does it lay a thick foundation for low self-worth for your child, it can also evoke resentment, and even contempt toward the sibling.
Solution: Parents: Be positivity spotters. Practice in a mirror, if you have to, but never utter these 5 words: “Why can’t you be like…?” Instead, replace these 5 words with these 5: “I’m so proud of you…” Embrace the individuality of your children and others (whether cousins or peers), and talk openly about the uniqueness of your children, without labels or judgments. Be an “attribute detective,” and celebrate your children’s uniqueness.
5. Age and gender bias. Many parents do not realize that they project age and gender prejudices on their offspring. Birth order and gender should have no bearing on family harmony, yet often age and gender threaten to dismantle a family’s wellbeing. The “compared-to” child thinks: “If I—(the baby of the family)—were the firstborn, Mom or Dad wouldn’t place these comparisons on me.” Or, “I can’t possibly do what William III accomplished, so I won’t even try.” And, as the first born: “Lexi gets away with everything, because she is a girl.”
Solution: Parents: Make a parenting plan that you will follow, where you have outlined the healthy structures you want in your family life, and also, read up on birth order. Understand where you might be projecting your own assumptions and judgments on your children. Have the awareness of gender inequities, where devaluation and deprivation occur.
Education and awareness is the first step to thwart comparison weeds from overtaking your family’s figurative garden. Recognize the strengths of each child and tap into what makes them shine. Make #Comparenting a thing of the past.
If you’d like to learn more on parenting, click here. To hear parenting tips on our podcast interview with Dr. Sheryl Ziegler, click here. To book a free 30-min consultation to understand how to best communicate with your child’s Myers Briggs personality preference, click here.