Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Competing for what?

A common and natural practice for many parents is to judge the progress of their child by comparing them to their peers. Parents become anxious if, for example, their child does not start to walk or talk at the same time as other children. While such an approach is somewhat logical, unnecessary expectations and pressures on a child to do things they are simply not ready to do could end up negatively affecting their development on different levels.

          It is important to recognize that all children are not the same and that each will require a unique amount of time to learn and grow naturally. Parents must learn to exercise patience and instead of trying to nudge them to be like their peers. They should focus more on learning to carefully observe them.
          Parents can learn to better address the needs expressed by the child through close observation. In this way, a parent takes an active role in facilitating and accommodating a child's natural development without forcing them to perform tasks they are not developed to undertake. Even if it is possible to teach a child different skills such as walking, by putting them in a walker parents are altering the natural process of neural development that every human being has to go through. Without giving them even a chance to recognize their own body, in this case their extremities, the children are thrown into a machine to walk. Instead of a child processing the meaning and function of their legs in order to discover how to walk, they are expected to rush through that with the “help” of a walker. If parents do not trust them to understand their legs enough to walk upright, how can they expect them to learn to use their legs, balance and a machine all together? The same applies to potty training etc.

          The stages of a child’s development are natural processes that should not be turned into a race where the one who walks, talks or is potty trained first wins a prize. This ends up instilling in a child a feeling that if they do not perform to the parents’ expectations, then they will never be as good.
          Even within the same family, competition leads to rivalry. Things become worse when comparisons are made in front of the children. Assuming that children won't hear or that they won’t understand, undermines the child’s capacity and intelligence. Even when it seems like a child may not be paying attention, through body language and other indirect clues, the child is receiving a message that to be accepted they must compete. Often, the rivalries between siblings or cousins that come from comparisons and competition can last a lifetime.

          Attention and unconditional acceptance from the parents is key in helping children to accept themselves and others with respect and ultimately builds a foundation of self-confidence.

Spanish translation coming soon…


  1. Extremely helpful article. With Summer vacation in full swing, the issues of competition can become more apparent. Children are home together more and interact more than during the busy school year. Would love to see more on this subject...i.e. how to handle these issues...how parents can take into account the feelings of all children involved. I look forward to the next piece. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Roseann,
    Thank you for reading. Children have the right to be loved unconditionally and accepted.