How your competitiveness can damage your child

TUNING into your child’s aptitudes and individuality can be derailed by over-attention to what other parents are doing. 

As parents, we want to get it right, but we’re learning on the job and no child comes with a manual, says Joanna Fortune, clinical psychotherapist and director of Solamh Parent-Child Relationship Clinic.

Too often, we look to what other parents are doing as a benchmark. “We don’t know how to measure without comparing, but what gets lost is that parents are experts in their own child and that their instincts should guide them,” says Fortune. There is a tendency to compare milestones — my child isn’t walking, or talking, but another child is. “It goes on to school achievements and hobbies — whose child is doing best in these arenas? The knock-on effect is that children can feel set up in competition with each other,” says Fortune. “Parents may feel they’re discreetly comparing, but children pick up very easily — ‘oh, that’s a great result and what did so-and-so get?’ The child immediately knows he’s being compared.”

Attuning to your child, and his individuality, begins when he’s an infant, and continues as he gets older and you listen to him and observe him. “If your child is happy, he will show you. If he isn’t, he will show you. We all like to get ‘gotten’ by somebody else,” says Fortune. Expose your child to new hobbies, but also listen to him if he persists in saying he doesn’t want to do an activity. “When you know he’s not happy, act on it — say: ‘I’m really proud you tried. What else would you like to try, instead’?”

It’s hard to see your child upset, because he isn’t good at an activity in which his peers excel. It’s good to say: ‘that’s ok — we all have different strengths and it’s really great that we try things, even when we’re not the best at it’. Then, point to his strengths. Fortune recommends getting children involved in collaborative rather than competitive activities. “If the child is in it to have fun, who’s the best doesn’t really come into it.”

Parent coach, Marian Byrne, says parents look to what other parents are doing re boundary-making: how much pocket money does he get? Is she allowed sleepovers? How long is she allowed on the games console? “Perhaps a parent doesn’t know what the norm is for a five- or 12-year-old. It’s no harm to look at what other parents are doing, but if you just copy what they do, you take your own judgement out of it. Instead, see how their approach fits with your own values as a parent.”

Top tips

* Be varied and balanced – expose child to indoor and outdoor interests.

* Encourage team activity — sports isn’t the only option, consider guides or scouts.

* Ask your child what gives him the most fun in his day.

* Have fun with your child — engage with him in what he’s involved in.


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