7 Things You Can Do Today To Help Children Protect Their Self-Worth When Dealing with Comparison Emotions.
Comparison happens everyday no matter your age. As adults we compare ourselves to others around us all the time. On some level comparison is normal. It is normal to recognize differences and important for children to understand that people are unique. The challenge is figuring out ways to teach your children how to recognize differences and acknowledge comparison without letting it negatively impact their self-worth.
During the early stages of development, around the 3-years-old, children start to learn how to recognize differences. They notice the physical differences other kids have compared to them like skin color, hair color, etc. The beautiful part is they do this through of curious lens, not a critical one. Around 5 years old, is when comparison has the potential to become negative. This is when children have difficulty holding onto their self-worth and unique self and start wanting to fit in and conform (Educateall.com). It’s normal to question why one friend looks a certain way or has certain things and one friend doesn’t. However, as parents, it’s important to help your children remember that their self-worth comes from who they are on the inside and how they treat others.
Here are some practical and tangible tips that you can do as a parent to help foster self-worth and acceptance in your child when they are trapped in a cycle of comparison.
Kids Learn Through Imitation
One of the most important things to remember about children is that they learn through imitation. If you say a “bad” word they say a “bad” word. If you talk about how “fat or ugly” you feel chances are your child will also start to think that they are “fat or ugly”. In order to foster self-worth and acceptance within your child you have to start by fostering positive self-worth in your own life. Speak to yourself as if you were speaking to your inner child and remind yourself that you too are worthy of love and self-acceptance.
Avoid Comparing Your Child to Others
This comes up a lot when there are siblings in a household. Do you remember a time when your parent compared you to your brother or sister? How did it make you feel? Remember that each of your children is their own person and it is important to cultivate this individual identity. Of course you want your children to get along but telling one kid that you wished they would act like your other child only creates a hostile environment where one kid feels unworthy and the other kid feels pressure to perform.
Focus on Progress Rather than Results.
We all remember that time when we learned something new for the first time and completely sucked at it. Most people want to just be really good at something right at the start. Unfortunately, things don’t work this way. The desire to be the best from the beginning stems from parental figures focusing on rewarding results rather than progress. When we focus on results children learn that to be seen and loved they need to be the best. Regardless of the results, practice acknowledging your child’s efforts. Focus on the energy and time your child spent learning or creating something rather than the end result. You can still acknowledge their successes but also positively acknowledge their failures. Remind them, and yourself, that failure is a part of life and that learning to keep going is the greatest skill you will ever have.
Teach Children About Goals and How to Track them
Comparing comes up a lot in a capitalistic culture because of our obsession with stuff. It is common for a kid to question why their friend has the new toy and they don’t. This is a great opportunity to introduce the concept of setting goals and tracking them. Use this as a chance to help your child identify a goal, a means to achieve that goal, and a way to track it.
Your child says, “Kathy has the new _____ and I don’t. I’m sad.”
You say, “ What if you make a plan to raise money to buy yourself a new phone? I can help you figure out a game plan to make it happen if you’d like”.
If your child is too young for a job you can exchange household activities for money and then can raise money that way.
Remind Them of What They Do Have
This one is important especially given that Thanksgiving is right around the corner. Reminding your child of what they do have does not mean guilt-tripping them. The whole “there are starving kids in Africa so you better eat your vegetable trick” never works and is an unfair comparison. Instead, when your kid compares his experience to that of a friend, remind them that every family is different and every person has different needs. Be as honest as you can with your child as to why they don’t have the same privileges.
The differences between us are what make life beautiful and interesting. Remind your child that difference is a good thing. Start having conversations about differences at an early age to validate your child’s natural curiosity. We are not all the same and you should not treat others the way you want to be treated, you should treat them the way they want to be treated.
Practice Talking About Emotions and Redirecting with Self Compassion
No matter what you do there will come a time in a child’s life where they start to be more critical towards themselves and compare themself with other kids. When you hear your child talking negatively about themselves or comparing, redirect the conversations. Try not to gaslight the comment by immediately saying, “no you are not ugly or no you are super smart don’t say that”. Instead acknowledge the negative feelings your child is feeling and ask them to explain why. The more comfortable your child is with expressing ALL their emotions the easier it will be in the future to identify how they are feeling and communicate that. Remind your child that it is normal to feel negative about yourself sometimes but just because you feel something doesn’t mean it is true. Work with your child to create different mantras that they can say when they feel negative, jealous, doubt or envy.
Overall, comparison is normal and it's important to recognize that it is normal in everyone's lives. Children, however, have a harder time checking the facts and seeing the reality of situations. To them, not having the best toy, getting a B instead of an A or not making Varsity can feel like the end of the world. Remind them that it is not by cultivating an environment where self-worth isn’t based on things and appearance but rather character and compassion.