What to Say When Kids Compare Themselves to Others
Smart strategies to redirect the conversation.
By Joanne Van Zuidam
Got a kid who thinks the grass is always greener in his best friend’s yard?
Not always a problem. Learning that a buddy got more A’s on his report card or that he just signed up for soccer may inspire a child to achieve in school, step up his social game, explore his capabilities, or try something new. As kids mature, it’s natural for them to compare themselves to others.
But sometimes kids over-focus on perceived inequalities. They see siblings at home or friends at school and wish they possessed the same athletic prowess, great clothes, good looks, breath-taking smarts, or musical talent.
Although comparisons may help some kids decide what they want to achieve and how to do it, for others, this process leads to lower self-esteem and disappointment.
A kid who lives in a small apartment may measure his self-worth against a buddy who lives in a large house. A third grade student may learn her BFF has a brand new tablet, and now she wants one, too.
Recognize your youngster? If you do, take a look at the following scenarios. They may help you decide whether your child needs a self-esteem boost or a reality check.
Your kid says: I’m not pretty like Ava.
You Say: I think you’re beautiful.
Go ahead. Flatter your daughter. But remind her, too, that she is good at singing, playing the violin, and soccer. You want your child to know it’s okay to care about her appearance, but communicate that what’s inside is equally important.
You kid says: Sophie has a TV in her bedroom. You treat me like a baby!
You say: We want your room to be a quiet place where you can relax and sleep without that kind of stimulation. Plus, we enjoy watching television as family.
Explain that experts recommend limiting screen time for kids to just a few hours a day—and add that includes the use of tablets, computers, and cell phones. Remind her she already spends plenty of time on her tablet and computer, and that you just prefer to run your household with that rule.
Your kid says: Tyler is allowed to stay up until 10 pm! You treat me like a baby!
You say: But you need at least 10 hours of sleep to feel your best, and you get up at 6am!
Tell him how sleep benefits him, and add that if he’s sleep deprived in the morning he won’t be able to function well at the things he enjoys doing. If he pressures you to stay up late, make it clear that you care about his health, and you want him to get the sleep he needs.
Your kid says: I stink at sports. Nick is so much better than me.
You say: Keep working at it. You’ll get better with practice.
Emphasize fun over performance, and talk about practice as often as you discuss game day. Counter any self-criticism with a reassuring pat on the back, and share stories about activities you had to work hard at. Boost his self-esteem by explaining that when you are on a team, you want your teammates to be just as good as you or even better.
Joanne Van Zuidam writes frequently about pregnancy and bringing up baby. She is the mother of one daughter.