Comparing and Competing... Why It Steals MORE Than Joy!

Who else had dreams for an idyllic Easter break of ‘meaningful activities’; time to bond with their kids, that largely turned into more-than-ideal screen time while everyone cursed the rain and gale-force winds?

What didn’t help matters in our house was that my son’s cousin, who is also his bestie, spent most of the holidays away, rendering much of their relationship virtual. Both children currently have an fixation with the animal-based game ‘Wildcraft’ and a pre-occupation with getting to get to the next level…

So I was rather proud when my 9 year old declared that their relative levels were ‘not a competition’.

Thus, I naively thought that he, and therefore I, had been spared the ‘self-other comparison’ angst…
However, despite what he knew at an intellectual level, he still spent most of the holidays obsessively trying to ‘catch up’, and feeling pretty unsettled until he did.

Self-other comparison is quite normal behaviour for all humans. Unfortunately, it comes especially easily to children because they spend so much of their lives being compared to each other in school.
I appreciate that may not be a school’s intention, but it happens anyway.

I’m not 100% averse to all self-other comparison, but the opportunities where it helps a child more it hinders are rare.
For example, a small dose might help them get perspective or find some courage they otherwise can’t…

When it’s less helpful, self-other comparison often looks or sounds like this; “So-and-so isn’t behaving like this”…. “That child doesn’t struggle with that”…. “S/he is doesn’t have this problem”.

As parents or educators, or in other roles, most of use fall foul of that kind of response occasionally; we are but human…

But there’s often an element of our own self-other comparison going on in these exchanges as well:
What would make my child co-operate like hers, behave like his, get results like theirs?
Is that child’s parent parenting their kids better than me?
Should I be more like X and more like Y?
In short, while it’s behind many of ours – and our kids’ – thoughts, behaviours and actions, self-other comparison rarely serves anybody.
As Teddy Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy”.

I’d go one step further than that. It doesn’t just steal joy, self-other comparison erodes self-esteem.
If the worthiness of what you bring to the world is always determined by who’s going further, faster, or more frequently than you, you’re in a permanent state of ‘less than’, and that can be toxic in the long-run.

Unless you’re in the lead, of course… And then there’s the angst of making sure you stay there.

Obliterating self-other comparison altogether is unrealistic of course; at every stage of childhood beyond infancy, academics, trading cards,  sporting achievements, game levels, social media interactions etc.; all leave their imprint.

But let’s steer our kids away from that territory where and when we can, especially when the world is somehow making them feel ‘less than‘…

And that almost always starts with us… How are we modelling self-acceptance? Or embracing ‘good enough’? Or not always trying to do all the things, all the time (why do we feel like ‘we should’, anyway?)

Those ‘self-other’ wants and wishes will sometimes still find a place in our thoughts. It doesn’t mean we have to speak them out loud, especially to tell our kids they should be less like them, and more like somebody else.

If comparison is the thief of joy, what’s the bringer of joy???
Put whatever anybody else’s kids do, have or are – more or less than ours – away for a while, and make space for more of that.

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