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The pitfall of using other children as benchmarks

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Have you ever compared your child’s behaviour, academic progress or social skills with a sibling, or your friend’s children?

Comparing your child with others is a stress-inducing and, ultimately, useless activity.

BUT it’s hard to resist as we tend to assess our progress in any area of life by checking out how we compare with our peers.

When you were a child in school you probably compared yourself to your schoolmates. Your teachers may not have graded you, but you knew who the smart kids were and where you ranked in the pecking order.

Now that you have kids of your own do you still keep an eye on your peers? Do you use the progress and behaviour of their kids as benchmarks to help you assess your own performance as well as your child’s progress? Or perhaps you compare your child to yourself at the same age?

Benchmarking children’s progress with that of other children is not a wise parenting strategy. Inevitably, it will lead to parent frustration as there will always be a child who performs better than your own on any scale you use.
Kids develop at their own rates

Each child has his or her own developmental clock, which is nearly impossible to alter. There are slow bloomers, early developers, bright sparks and steady-as-you-go kids in every classroom. It’s the first group that can cause the most concern for parents who habitually compare children to siblings, their friends’ kids and even themselves when they were in school.

The trick is to focus on your child’s improvement and effort and use your child’s results as the benchmark for his or her progress and development. “Your spelling is better today than it was ago” is a better measure of progress than “Your spelling is the best in the class!”

Gender matters

It’s no secret that boys’ and girls’ brains were developed by different architects. One major difference lies around timing, or maturity. The maturity gap between boys and girls is anywhere between 12 months and two years, and seems to be consistent all the way to adulthood.

Quite simply, girls have a developmental headstart over boys in areas such as handwriting, verbal skills and relationship skills. Boys benefit greatly from teaching strategies designed for their specific needs. They also benefit from having teachers and parents who recognize that patience is a virtue when teaching and raising boys, as it seems to take longer for many boys to learn and develop.

Kids have different talents, interests and strengths

So your eight-year-old can’t hit a tennis ball like Novak Djokavic, even though your neighbour’s child can. Avoid comparing the two as your child may not care about tennis anyway.

It’s better to help your child identify his or her own talents and interests. And also recognise that strengths and interests may be completely different than those of his or her peers and siblings.

Avoid linking your parenting self-esteem to your child’s performance

As I wrote in Thriving, parents should take pride on your children’s performance at school, in sport or their leisure activities. Seeing your child do well is one of the unsung pleasures of parenting. You should also celebrate their achievements and milestones such as, taking their first steps, getting their first goal in a game or getting great marks at school.

However, you shouldn’t have too much personal stake in your children’s success or in their milestones, as this close association makes it hard to separate yourself from them. It may also lead to excessive parent pressure for kids to do well for the wrong reasons- to please you!

The maxim “You are not your child” is a challenging but essential parental concept to live by. Doing so takes real maturity and altruism, but it is the absolute foundation of that powerful thing known as ‘unconditional love’.

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