My daughter, who had a sleep averse baby couldn’t believe her ears when a new mum in a mother’s group proudly announced that her four month old slept through the night. My daughter thought, “What am I doing wrong?”
Approaching this mother to discover her sleep secret, my daughter learned that this boast was made on the back of some questionable data. The four year old had slept through the night once, but this mother thought it was worth boasting about.
I welcomed my daughter to the politics of parenting where benchmarking of kids’ physical and social development, their behaviour and academic progress can become a constant.
Each child has his or her own developmental clock, which is nearly impossible to alter.
The pitfall of benchmarking with other children
Comparing your child with others is a stress-inducing and, ultimately, useless activity. 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 late bloomers, early developers, bright sparks and steady-as-you-go kids in everywhere. 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 a month ago” is a better measure of progress than “Your spelling is the best in the class!”
It’s no secret that different architects developed boys’ and girls’ brains. 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 head start 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 recognise 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. Perhaps your neighbour’s teenager is a piano virtuoso, while your fourteen year old’s idea of musical talent is listening to Spotify while doing homework. Comparisons are stressful, as they can bear no relationship to children’s interests and talents.
It’s better to help your child or young person 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
Take pride in your children’s performance at school, in sport or their leisure activities. Seeing your child doing 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 parental pressure for kids to do well, which is an acknowledged source of anxiety for many children and young people.
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’.