Curb Comparison

What do I do when my 10yo always compares herself negatively to others?

"My 10yo daughter can't stop comparing herself to other people. On the swim team she's always discouraged because she's not the fastest, even though we stress the important thing is beating her own time. She gets discouraged when she knows one of her friends gets a better grade on a quiz no matter how well she does. She's started to talk about which of her friends are 'cooler' or 'more popular' than her which is causing her a lot of stress.

I know this isn't good for her but I'm at a loss for how to stop the constant comparing and I'm not sure what to say that won't elicit an eye-roll..."

- A Legends Parent

Let’s hear from the experts on the Legends team 👇

The way I think about comparing people to one another completely changed after I read my favorite developmental science book: The End of Average by Todd Rose. I recommend it to anyone, but especially to parents and educators. A section relevant to the comparison question is around 'jaggedness' or the idea all human characteristics are so multidimensional and complex that using an average to understand or compare is meaningless.  For example, here are two folks with the same IQ score, but vastly different levels of ability. 

It's easy to see a peer get a good grade or score a goal and think that they're "better" than you, but it's certain that you'll be more talented in other important areas as well. Social media only exacerbates this problem because people only shine a light on their high water marks and where they are thriving (or making it look like they are), whereas we're aware of both our own highs and lows all the time.

It's a particularly thorny area for kids who start to have the cognitive capacity to more accurately compare themselves to peers around ages 7-8, but who don't have the confidence to always feel good about the judgments they're making. 

"All of us want to be normal, yet none of us want to be average."

Todd Rose

I think a mindset of truly embracing jaggedness and realizing that everyone is a collection of unique abilities and talents helps set us free from constant comparison. The science really does show us that we're all Legends in our own way. 

I like that you talked about encouraging your daughter to beat her own times. Another quote I've always liked: “the only person you should try to be better than is who you were yesterday.”

Thinking about personal successes can help. Can you help her identify ways that she’s used her talents in places that matter most to her? That's a really great recipe for building confidence. As a parent, pointing those moments out or setting kids up to have experiences like that can be really impactful for them.

It's easier to replace a behavior or thought than stop it. Rather than encouraging her not to compare, give her something else to think about in the moment. A technique we love to teach at Legends is looking back at your day/week and making a list of things you're proud of. When you catch her comparing, you might encourage her to hit pause and do that (or another gratitude practice). 

At some point, it's good for her to know that comparison is both normal (the feeling won't be as intense if she knows everyone compares) and that science shows it leads to feeling worse about yourself (as opposed to just being something you "shouldn't do").

You're never going to eliminate comparison 100% (I still struggle with it, so this was tough for me!) but hopefully those tips help. And of course the most impactful thing for her behavior will be what she sees you do. So, if you notice yourself making comparisons to others out of habit, pause and correct yourself out loud!

Role modeling is really important, you’ve got to avoid comparing yourself to others and comparing your child to others. They’ll do what you do, so avoid comparisons as much as you possibly can.

Here are a few important things to remind your child:

  • That they are unique, and you love them for their uniqueness. They don’t have to be like everyone else or compare themselves.

  • To set their own goals and measure themselves against those goals, no one else’s. If they are trying to achieve something, you want to encourage them to achieve it for themselves, but not so they’re comparing themselves to anyone else.

  • My mom used to always tell me “you’re always going to find that you are better at some things and someone else will be better than you at others.” I’ve kept that with me my entire life. There are some things I may excel at and some I won’t at all. This is hard stuff. We as adults continue to encounter this and our children pick up on it pretty quickly. So, anything we can do to shift our own perspective toward comparison is really important and significant.

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