Apples vs Oranges: Comparing our Kids

apples

My husband and I were getting our toddler dressed the other day. We were headed to an event where all of her little friends from daycare would be. I used to work at the daycare, so I love and care for these kids, almost as my own. As I was turning our little one’s bedhead into pretty ringlets, her dad said, “Wow! You are going to be the prettiest little girl there!” Out of nowhere, my heart sank. He’s said things like that a million times before, as have I, but this time, going to see all of the little girls that I poured into every day, his comment struck me the wrong way. Why was it that she had to be the prettiest? I didn’t want her to feel superior to these other kids, to become arrogant and haughty. Were we encouraging her to compare herself to her friends, and frankly, to become a snob?

Now, don’t get me wrong, I absolutely want my little girl’s confidence to be high. I want her to know that she is beautiful, loved, smart, and fabulous.  I want her to know that we are her biggest supporters and that she is special to us, but I don’t want her to be limited by comparisons. Does she always have to be the prettiest? The most loved? smartest, best, fastest… Is that setting her up for failure?

We’ve all seen little girls (and boys) who have been told that they are the most ______. Heck, we’ve all told our kids that, and often without a second thought. The question that keeps running circles through my head is this:

What happens when they aren’t?  Are their little spirits crushed? Are they constantly comparing themselves to others to see if they are better than the next child? If they fail, do they think our impressions of them have changed?

We all know that as adults, we have to make a conscious effort not to compare ourselves to one another. So how can we help our kids to not fall into this same trap that strips everyone of joy?  Can we stop comparing the apples and oranges, and just enjoy them?

I read this article a while back and it talks about how kids who are told that they are smart tend to shut down when they fail. They thought that their success was based on their inherent intelligence, and if they failed, there was nothing more that they could do. Guess what happened to the kids in the same classes who were praised for being hard workers? When they failed, they worked harder. Is it really possible that a simple change in language could affect our kids so greatly? Would the same shift occur if the conversation we had with our daughter went just a little differently? Maybe more like this:

“You always look so beautiful! I can’t wait to see how beautiful all of your friends are, and to see your smiles when you play together.”

Would it give her confidence in who she was, and also encourage her to look for the good in her friends? I would love to raise kids who were able to celebrate those around them and to not get forced into having to be better at every step. Maybe I’m just dreaming, and it’s impractical to think these changes would make a difference. But, I know that my heart drops when I see kids telling other kids that they aren’t as (smart, funny, friendly) as the child speaking, that bullying and superiority in children disheartens me.

What if we just asked our kids to never give up, to help one another, and to try to do better today than they did yesterday? I wonder if that would be all it would take to remove some of the pressure off of our kids to always be better than those around them.

There is so much that we have to worry about as parents, that this thought almost seems overwhelming. Have I already done too much damage? How can I possibly think about all of the things I say in this context? Friends, let me just tell you that this post is not meant to condemn you. It is meant to help us all think through our intentions, and to set our hearts on the futures we want our kids to have. Having conversations like this help us to try to do a little better today than we did yesterday.

This is only one thought in this conversation. Do you have any other ideas on how we can help raise a generation of kids looking to uplift their peers?

Stacy is married to John, and mother to four girls, all ages 6 and under. They are a foster family and are passionate about serving children and families in need. Stacy has a Master's Degree in Education from LSU, but has chosen to take a break from teaching in the classroom to work part-time, while focusing on family.

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