It’s so easy to compare our kids, whether their milestones, achievements or interests. But here’s why we need to stop comparing kids and what you can do instead.
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 couldn’t help but remember how his cousin and birthday celebrant 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. And sadly I couldn’t help but compare their two disparate dispositions.
The proximity in their ages don’t make comparisons any easier. Only seven months apart, comparisons are bound to happen, whether one likes to dance, the other likes to fiddle with gadgets, and who was first to eat solids.
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?
If seven months seem short, one of my friends has a son just two weeks younger than my toddler. “How come my son isn’t into cars and bikes like his friend?” “His friend can already jump and is potty trained.” And so forth.
It’s so easy to compare. We compare skills others have mastered that ours still haven’t (and vice versa). We compare their personalities and hobbies. Comparisons even make me doubt my son’s own pace and abilities.
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 for everyone
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 kids is also stressful for them. 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. 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 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.
3. Comparing kids focuses on their 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.
Why we need to stop comparing kids to others
- Has his own interests: Just as we adults have our own hobbies and pastimes, so do our kids. Children differ in their interests and will spend effort on those that they enjoy.
- Excels at his own skills: It’s so easy to forget our kids’ own amazing skills when we compare their shortcomings to others.
- Showcases his own personality: While I love my toddler’s inquisitiveness, quick mind, humor and playfulness, one trait I grapple with is his fiery (and loud) temperament. Accept kids for who they are and stop comparing their temperaments.
- Develops at his own pace: While my toddler started walking at 10 months, it wasn’t until he was 21 months before he finally spoke his first words. As an SSBE reader wrote in a comment:
“There is a really wide range of normal, and all the weird stuff your baby is going to do fits right in the middle of that range.”
How comparisons can be useful
Rather than comparing kids only to feel like we’ve failed, we can use comparisons as a way to introduce new skills and interests.
For instance, I recently read about a mom who showed her toddler how to slice a banana. I didn’t pressure my toddler to slice every bunch of banana or worry whether he’s set back because he has yet to slice his own food. Instead, I found a plastic knife and showed him how fun slicing one of his favorite fruits can be.
I took the same approach when I heard that one of his playmates can remove his own shoes. I tried not to sulk about my toddler’s inability to do the same or push him to perfect this skill in a day. Instead, I gradually introduced and practiced with him on how to remove his shoes.
So yes, notice what other kids are doing and even introduce those skills to our own, but try not to worry if they don’t get it or have no interest.
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 kids—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.
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