“Why aren’t you like your Sister? She always gets the first position in her class. And, she has more friends than you.”, says the mother of my 9-year old student as I just handed over the report.
Even, before I could share my insights about his special gifts, she started shredding his confidence in public. And, he stood silently looking at the floor.
Before you judge the boy and his talents, let me tell you a bit about his special gifts. He not only plays keyboard but also composes music at such a young age. He is one of the best swimmers in the school in the junior category. He gave a terrific performance as he played the protagonist in one of the school plays.
I have been through these ironic situations multiple times.
During the parent-teacher interactions, parents will take pride in saying that, “We know our children in and out”. But, do they? It has become a general norm that the parents instead of discussing the strengths of their children often start by comparing them with their siblings, peers or friends.
What many of them don’t realize is that such remarks can deal a heavy blow to their youngsters’ confidence and self-esteem, and most importantly, lead to jealousy among siblings. This, however, is only the tip of the iceberg. And, I got to experience it during my early days in this profession.
One of my students, let’s call him L for the sake of simplicity, was a very tough child.
His grades were in bad shape as well as his behavior with other kids was very rash. Kids wanted to be friends with him but he would push them away. His parents were called to school multiple times to discuss it but we couldn’t make any headway!
Then, his progress was assigned to me. And, this is where we crossed each other road and became friends forever!
L’s family – A set of successful people
So to make a headway in the situation, I met L’s parents and sibling. The parents, who were stars in their respective profession, sounded highly disappointed in L as his sibling was awesome in school. His sibling was great at Maths and Science and these two were the worst subject for L. L and his sibling weren’t emotionally bonded and there were multiple signs of unhealthy competition between the siblings.
L – The lost soul
My initial days and efforts to connect with L were futile. He was quiet and stressed during most of our interactions. During the sports or extra-curricular activities, he was either distracted or disinterested. With respect to hobbies, he didn’t have any. But, he definitely loved to spend the time with nature. It was quite evident that he was suffering from low self-esteem and he was not connected with anyone around him – neither his sibling nor other kids at school.
L found his love!
L’s parents were too busy in pointing out what was missing in him.
Sally-Anne McCormack, a clinical psychologist, believes that the parents or guardians should strive hard to find out the strengths and positive points of kids instead of pointing out what is missing in them. So we started hunting for the activities that L enjoyed and excelled in.
After multiple conscious attempts spanning over three weeks, working with L, we found his love and his strength in dancing. He loved dancing. He was a natural when it came to Bollywood. The other thing he enjoyed was reading-out. He could narrate stories and poems like a seasoned orator. He loved spending time in reading about flowers, birds, animals and natural phenomenon like earthquakes, volcano. He told me he felt like the science lab was actually a magical place where one can replicate nature’s wonders!
As L found his love, he also started building his self-esteem.
He started gaining confidence. He became quite eloquent in classes and engaged in extracurricular activities.
But, there was still one thing that L & I were struggling with. It was the ability to connect with other kids and his sibling.
After a lot of push, L opened up and confided his feelings about connecting with others. L mentioned multiple instances when L’s parents compared him with either his friends or sibling. L had a friend, who used to love the way he would invent new and engaging games. But, the parents made him feel inferior whenever his friend used to come home. The parents would appreciate his friend’s grades and intelligence while belittling any successes L would achieve. And, the result – L decided to push out his best friend from his life.
Parents need to raise themselves before raising kids
I requested L’s parents for a meeting to discuss the progress. Before I started, the parents themselves said that they could see improvement in him. He had started taking interest in science. Though he wasn’t as hardworking as his elder sibling, so they thought that there was still a huge scope for improvement.
To which I asked them to stop. I told them they can’t do that to him anymore.
I acquainted them to a scientific study which states, “Children who are compared with their siblings or other kids, especially in terms of academic performance, develop severe mental disorders and these disorders follow them in their later life.”
“Do you want your kids to develop stress, anxiety, depression or other mental illness? And, If the answer is an obvious no, then stop comparing them.” I asked them.
I continued, “Comparing kids isn’t even healthy for parents themselves. By comparing kids, you are pretty much setting yourself up for frustration as no one is perfect. You need to go easy on your kids and keep the expectations realistic, otherwise, you’ll simply find yourselves disappointed. Also, it negatively affects the environment at home, which has a long-term effect on the relationships across the family.”
“When kids are judged by the very people who are supposed to support them, they automatically start doubting themselves and their own capabilities. These feelings naturally take a toll on their self-esteem. Lower self-esteem means a lower level of motivation and confidence. All this happens because of parents’ judgments and comparisons, even if they are doing it constructively.”
I understand, no one can stop the world from comparing your kids, but the least we can do is not do it to our own kids.
Comparison only makes things worse. Accept your kids for who they are instead of what they should be. Setting goals is good, but appreciating the individuality of kids is just as important.
Thankfully, L’s parents understood and with time they controlled their desire to compare.
And today when I see L bringing laurels to our school in multiple recitals and dance competitions, the teacher in me feels fulfilled and proud.
More from I for Her: Dear Parents, Life is not a mathematical equation it is an ART
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