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Why it's never a good idea to compare your children

When we parent children that are either very different from each other or different from us, we have to be careful not to project ourselves or others onto our children.
by Michelle Sutherlin Modified: March 27, 2014 at 2:26 pm •  Published: March 27, 2014

My husband and I are complete opposites. He is introverted, private, intellectual and a planner. I, on the other hand, am highly extroverted, open to a fault, a feeler and love being spontaneous. There is beauty in these differences, and we have found a way not to just make it work but to make it work well.

So, it should have been no surprise that we have two children at the opposite ends of the personality spectrum. My oldest is very much like his dad: serious, planned, cautious, mild mannered and thoughtful. My youngest is very much like me: life is a party and everyone is invited.

When we parent children that are either very different from each other or different from us, we have to be careful not to project ourselves or others onto them. I find this to be very difficult.

Fortunately, I have great friends who hold me accountable. I was teased pretty relentlessly as a child and have always had a fear that my children would walk the same path. I have over worried about this, to the point I started asking my children specific questions such as, "Was so-and-so nice to you today? What did he say? How did you feel?"

My friends finally, gently but firmly, told me to cut it out. My kids were fine and all of this insecurity I had was making them a little paranoid. So I stopped asking them the questions, even though I still wondered about it. Everyone seemed happier.

I talk to parents all the time who say things such as, "Well Suzy is just like me; she stinks at math." Or "Billy is a star athlete, just like I was." Or "Janey gets her bad attitude from me, she can't help it."

Our children are already little humans. And even when they are very much like us, they are still unique in their own ways. And, they're generally more wonderful than we give them credit.

I am the worst at playing the comparison game with my children. I try not to, and most of the time I don't even realize I am doing it. But it happens.

You know how it goes: one child is stronger, one child is faster, one child is better at math, one child is better at writing, one child is more outgoing, one child has a super funny dry sense of humor.

This is a trap, friends. We can compare each other until we are out of breath, but it serves no purpose. We KNOW there are no two people who are the same, so why keep bringing up our differences?

We were all created different on purpose. Can you imagine how boring it would be if we were all created the same?

Even when we mean well, if we compare our children to others, it is hurtful for them. All of us tend to focus on our flaws and not our strengths. This is true with children, too.

When we say something such as, "Your brother is tall and skinny and you are strong and stocky," what the child tends to hear is, "Your brother is thin and handsome and you are short and fat." Unfortunately, it is the way the brain works. Even when we say something we think is positive, when we compare them to others, they take it negatively.

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by Michelle Sutherlin
NewsOK Contributor
Michelle Sutherlin is a middle school counselor in Norman, OK, who works with students ages 11-15 daily. She is also a mom to two boys, Ryan (12) and Will (9). She and her husband have been married for 16 years. She loves middle school students so...
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