It’s so easy to compare our kids, whether their milestones, achievements or interests. But here’s why comparing kids is harmful and what you can do instead.
My then-toddler was sitting in my lap, crying during what I had hoped would be a fun birthday party for his cousin. But instead of enjoying himself, he cried over every little thing. Even getting up to fetch him some water would incite tears galore.
His cousin, meanwhile, was being the perfect host. Laughing, accepting gifts, being the life of the party.
He also happened to be the same age as my little guy, just a few months apart.
The comparisons soon began: Why can’t he be more social like his cousin? And why isn’t he interested in cars or using the potty like him?
The dangers of comparing kids to others
From infancy and onward, we’ll all compare our kids, on everything. Who reached which milestones first. Their temperaments and social behaviors. Which interests they have, and how well they do in school.
This is normal, and at times even important. For instance, we rely on ages and stages to see which milestones kids should be reaching, so that if they’ve passed that window, then it’s worth discussing with their pediatrician.
But often, comparisons can come with many hidden dangers like these:
#1: Comparing kids is stressful
I have a knack for stressing myself out. Things beyond my control are the worst—it’s not like I can even do anything about those worries. Comparisons fit into that category. Imagine stressing out because you see other kids who could do things your child can’t do yet.
Comparing is also stressful for kids. We can project our anxieties and place unfair pressure onto them. And it just doesn’t feel good to seem inadequate in any way. Subtle insinuations like, “How come you haven’t joined any sports teams yet?” can hurt.
And the irony of all the stress? Often, we realize we had been worrying over nothing. The first signs my eldest might have a speech delay sent me flying in all directions. It’s one thing to be proactive, but another to stress when, in hindsight, it usually turns out all right.
#2: Comparisons damage our relationships
People would joke my son would be an engineer. Give him a ride-on car and he won’t ride it—he’ll turn it over and see how the wheels work.
I’ll be honest: as cute as that quirk was, I also worried if it was normal behavior. Other kids see cars and they make a mad rush to ride it. They don’t inspect the wheels or tinker with the wires. And it makes you wonder if anything is wrong with your kids.
We end up not relishing in the beauty of these quirks but instead get so hung up on what typical kids are doing. We risk not accepting our kids for who they are and instead push them to be someone they’re not.
Imagine comparing a child to another her age who could already use the potty. Pressuring her to use a potty when she may not even be ready for it would cause a rift between parent and child.
Psst… Like what you’ve read so far? Download the 31 Days to Better Parenting worksheets, FREE!
#3: Comparisons focus on children’s shortcomings
The more we compare, the more we focus on our kids’ shortcomings. We doubt their abilities and question the pace they’re learning or developing. When other kids seem further along, it’s hard not to see where our kids come up short.
But that’s exactly the problem. None of us are perfect, least of all our kids. We all have our shortcomings, and we focus on them when we compare.
Worse, we forget their amazing skills when all we see are the areas they’re lacking or different in. A boy tinkering with the underside of a car speaks amazing talents. One that I might’ve overlooked if all I could wonder is why he’s not riding it.
We can’t avoid comparing kids, no matter how much we try. It’s not so much about avoiding it altogether but being mindful if you catch yourself. Notice what you’re doing and hopefully you won’t act on them.
Besides, each child holds different interests and hobbies. They display their own skills and grow at their own paces. They even have their unique personalities and temperaments.
After three kids, I can attest that children reach milestones on a wide range. One child walked early but spoke later. Another spoke early but walked later. Comparing—and worrying about the comparison—does little to change anything.
Yes, my kids have thrown crazy tantrums. We’ve had to leave parties and be mindful of transitioning from one activity to another. But the comparisons didn’t shine light on all the other ways they’re amazing, then and now.
In the moment, we think these shortcomings or differences will last forever, but they rarely do. Kids outgrow tantrums, amaze us with their skills and eventually meet their milestones.
They even learn how to behave like perfect party hosts, no tantrums whatsoever.
Get more tips:
- Don’t Feel Guilty for NOT Taking Many Photos of Your Kids
- Stop Comparing Yourself to Others
- Why Too Many Toys Can Be Bad for Kids
- Stop Comparing Your Child to Others
- On Accepting Your Children for Who They Are
Tell me in the comments: What are some comparisons you’ve made with other children?
Get your FREE workbook!
Get the 31 Days to Better Parenting Workbook, FREE! These worksheets will help you put parenting principles into action, and you'll also get exclusive tips not found on the blog. Download now!