It’s easy to compare children and their milestones, achievements, or interests. But here’s why we need to stop comparing kids to others.
I jinxed myself, again.
I was just beginning to think my toddler’s tantrums didn’t seem as terrible as in the past. And of course, he threw an all-out, can’t-catch-my-breath tantrum in what should’ve been a fun birthday party. We had to listen to him cry the whole ride home—through traffic, of course—before he calmed down.
All the while, I noticed how his cousin—the birthday boy—was laughing with family, sharing toys, and accepting gifts like a gracious host. And here was my toddler, ready to cry if I even so much as got up to grab a cup of water.
Why can’t he be more social like his cousin? I thought. Why isn’t he interested in cars or using the potty like him?
The closeness in their ages didn’t make it any easier. Only seven months apart, comparisons were bound to happen. One liked to dance, the other liked to fiddle with gadgets, and I noted who was first to eat solids.
If seven months seem short, a friend has a son two weeks younger than mine. How come he isn’t into cars and bikes like his friend? His friend can already jump and is potty trained. And so forth.
Why we need to stop comparing kids to others
From infancy onward, we compare our kids about everything. Who reached which developmental milestones first. Their temperaments and social behaviors. Which interests they have, and how interested they are in school. This is even more apparent among siblings.
Comparison is normal, and at times even important. For instance, we rely on ages and stages to see which milestones they should be reaching. If they’ve passed that window, then it’s worth discussing with their pediatrician.
But we can overdo it, comparing skills other kids have mastered that our own children still haven’t (and vice versa). We compare their personalities and academics and doubt their pace and abilities. And too often, the comparison trap can come with hidden dangers like these:
1. Comparing kids is stressful for everyone
Do you stress yourself about things beyond your control—things you can’t even do anything about? Comparisons can add that burden on everyone. Imagine stressing out because you see other kids who could do things your child can’t do yet.
Comparing kids is also stressful for your child. You might project your anxieties and place unfair pressure on her. 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 lead to resentment and unhappiness.
And the irony of all the stress? Often, we realize we had been worrying over nothing. The first signs my son 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.
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2. Comparing kids damages 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 his behavior was normal. Other kids see cars and they make a mad rush to ride them—not inspect the wheels or tinker with the wires. And it makes you wonder if anything is wrong with your child.
We end up not relishing or appreciating these quirks and 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. Comparison becomes a thief of joy when we should be offering our unconditional support instead.
3. Comparing kids focuses on their shortcomings
The more we compare, the more we focus on our kids’ shortcomings. We doubt their capabilities 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 and different strengths when all we see are the areas they’re lacking. A boy tinkering with the underside of a car speaks of amazing talents—those I might’ve overlooked if all I could wonder was why he was not riding it.
4. Every child is unique
Comparisons are ineffective when you see that kids develop at their own pace and have their own personalities and interests. Just as we adults have our hobbies and pastimes, so do our kids. They’ll spend time and effort on those that they enjoy that other kids might not.
And the range of “normal” truly is wide. My son started walking as early as 9 or 10 months, but it wasn’t until several months later that he was finally able to say his first words. All the strange quirks and delays will fit right within that range.
How comparisons can be useful
Rather than comparing kids only to feel like we’ve failed somehow, we can use comparisons as a way to introduce new skills and interests.
For instance, a friend might mention that she showed her toddler how to slice a banana. Don’t turn around and pressure yours to slice every banana at home, or worry whether he’s set back because he has yet to slice his food. Instead, find a child-friendly knife and show her how fun slicing fruit can be.
Or, let’s say you heard that her cousin can remove his shoes. Don’t sulk about her inability or lack of motivation to do the same, or push her to perfect this skill in a day. Instead, introduce and practice this skill with her.
And most importantly, don’t make her feel bad if she can’t slice bananas or put on her own shoes. Any time you say she “can’t” do something, add the word “yet” and you’ll realize that she’ll eventually learn to do them in time.
So yes, notice what other kids are doing and introduce those skills, but don’t worry if she doesn’t get it right away or shows no interest (yet).
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 in the act.
Besides, kids have different interests and hobbies, skills and paces, personalities, and temperaments.
After three kids, I can attest that kids reach milestones on a wide range. One child walked early but spoke later. Another spoke early but walked later. Comparing kids—and worrying about the difference—does little to change anything.
And comparisons don’t shine a light on all the other ways they’re amazing, then and now. At the moment, we think these shortcomings or differences will last forever, but they rarely do. They’ll outgrow tantrums, amaze us with their skills, and eventually meet their benchmarks.
They even learn how to behave like perfect party hosts, with no tantrums whatsoever.
Get more tips:
- How to Respond When Someone Criticizes Your Parenting
- Fine Motor Skills Activities for 5-6 Year Olds
- When Your Child Is Scared at Extracurricular Activities
- How to Motivate Children to Do Their Best
- 4 Things You Shouldn’t Say about Other People’s Children
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