In a social media focused society, almost all of us struggle with comparison.
Though comparison might be a little more intense for adults these days (as we look at our friends’ highlight reels through a little screen), comparison is nothing new for children. It seems that kids come pre-programmed to be sensitive to what their peers are and aren’t doing. Remember agonizing over your first day of school outfit and then comparing it with what everyone else wore? I sure do.
When meeting with students who are struggling at school, one of the non-academic things I observe holding them back most frequently is the habit of comparing themselves to their peers in the classroom. Though trying to keep up with the latest fashion and social trends can distract students from their school work, the comparison students make to how their peers are seemingly doing academically can be more detrimental to their learning.
When your child focuses on how they stack up to their peers in the classroom, it can take their focus away from learning and growing at school and keep them from reaching their full potential. This comparison can also lead to your child feeling discouraged and losing confidence in their abilities. If your child struggles with comparison, either by trying to beat out the top kid in the class, or by worrying about being the last one to finish the test, try some of these tips to help them focus on the meaningful learning and growth they can experience during their education:
Help your child compete with themselves.
A little healthy competition is good, but it’s always healthier to compete with yourself. Help your child harness their competitiveness in a healthy way by teaching them how to monitor their progress and compare their current performance with past efforts. When a test doesn’t go well, help your child move their focus away from how everyone else did on the test and toward how they can beat out their score next time. When memorizing math facts, help your child make a chart to keep track of how many facts they have memorized each week, and help them brainstorm ways they can improve their own performance. These small shifts can help your child make more meaningful academic gains and keep them from getting stuck obsessing over how they stack up.
One of the best ways to beat out comparison is through personal goal setting. Help your child choose an academic area they would like to improve and assist them in setting an actionable goal that can be easily measured (like a B in English or memorizing their multiplication facts). After the goal is set, help your child make a list of actions they can take to make progress toward achieving their goal. Check in often, and point out any progress you see. Having a clear personal goal can help your child stay focused on their own academic gains instead of the progress of their peers.
Be open to comparison thoughts and worries.
It’s very likely that students will struggle with academic and social comparison as they go through school. When your child expresses these worries and thoughts, try to make space for them to tell you how they’re feeling. As we all know, most of us will struggle with comparison throughout our lives, and this is a great opportunity to help your child find healthy ways to deal with these feelings. If your child struggles because peers are boasting or being nosy about other’s grades, role play with your child how to interact in these situations and discuss how the boasting of others sometimes doesn’t give you accurate information. After letting your child vent and sit with their feelings, try to help them set a goal or find a way to compete with themselves to improve their performance in a way they desire.
Discuss the real purpose of grades, learning, and the classroom environment.
When we don’t know why we’re doing something, it can become hard to keep our priorities straight. Don’t just assume your child knows why they’re going to school, getting grades, and listening to teachers. Have family conversations about the purpose of getting an education and how learning (in and out of the classroom) can help your child get where they want to go. Help your student build a growth mindset in which they understand that true learning means trying new and difficult things and making mistakes before getting it right, and that the learning process will look different for everyone. These conversations can help your child break free of the emphasis our culture places on grades, accolades, and comparison and instead turn their focus toward the learning and growth of which they are capable.