How To Strengthen Your Child's Core (Identity – that is)

Family and Kids

Do you compare yourself to others? Are you scanning people for their physical and emotional attributes and sizing yourself up at the same time? Do you do that with your spouse? Do you notice other husbands or wives and wish yours could be just a smidgen more helpful around the house? or more attentive to you? or on time?
I think we all do this to some extent and we also know it isn’t particularly constructive.
It starts with our own comfort with ourselves, doesn’t it? Our willingness to say, we are enough.
How can we give that gift to our children? How can we raise children who recognize their own inner worth who can connect with others rather than compete with them?
The back story
I grew up in a home where comparisons abounded. And they happened in two particularly unhelpful ways:
1) Comparing me to my friends: “Why can’t you be more like _______? She is always so warm and friendly to me.” Or the other version, “I bet, _____ doesn’t talk to her mother that way.” (or cleans her room or calls home when she is going to be late, etc)
2) Comparing me to my sister: “Your sister would never do that.” or “I am sure if you just tried harder you could be as artistic as your sister.” (And comparing my sister to me)
The impact
I resented my friends. (My friends!)
I did everything in my power to keep my friends away from my parents.
I acted out to prove my parents right!
My sister and I resented each other and it drove a wedge between us.
Feeling ashamed of who I was and who I wasn’t
My commitment as a parent
I want our kids to have a keen appreciation for the unique gifts they bring to the world and to value each other’s gifts. I want them to support each other’s achievements and feel like they have a safe haven in which to brag about their own.
So as you might imagine, I am hyper-conscious about making comparisons. Our two boys are very different one from the other.  And I would be lying if I told you that I never wished that one could be more like the other. The danger is in voicing those wishes. I found that I eventually even stopped talking to my friends about this – even when there were no kids around. It wouldn’t have had a direct impact on the kids. But it had a subtle reinforcing impact on me that  felt wrong.
Some useful strategies
I could just end this post with the admonition: Don’t compare. But it is always more useful to find positive things we CAN do.  Here are some things I have tried over the years.

  • Create uninterrupted one-on-one time with each child. Give them the space to be who they are; time when they are not competing (even unconsciously) with their siblings or with other kids. And give yourself the gift of really getting to know your child. (This is as true when they are 5 as when they are 15!)
  • When your kids are together, make a point of (model) acknowledging each of them to the other.
  • “Jenny those are great color choices. Jack, check these great color choices out.”
    “Brianna you shared with your friends so nicely today. Joe, do you know what Brianna did?…”
    “Emily, remember how hard Lizzy was studying for her math test? Guess what? She aced it!”

  • When your kids are arguing with each other, express complete trust in their ability to work it out with each other.

A special note about being fair:
Especially when kids are younger, even if you don’t make comparisons – they do.
They want to know that they are being treated fairly. Speaking as both a parent and a former school principal it is never too early to reinforce the idea that things are fair when everyone’s needs are met and not when everyone is treated the same!

So, what do you think? I’d love to hear your successes and challenges.

(photo source)