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How Can I Stop Comparing My Child to Others Their Age?

Post · Jul 22, 2022 ·

This question came up recently in our member community, and I gathered these thoughts in my newsletter this week. If you’d like more home schooling Q&As and my thoughts around parenting, education, and child-led learning you can sign up for the newsletter over here.

A reader asks

I often find myself comparing my children to others their age (especially children who go to school, and especially in all those normal academic areas). It creates worry, and it’s unhelpful, but that thing of “where children should be at” is so engrained. How can I shake this?

Theodore Roosevelt famously said:
“Comparison is the thief of joy.”

But I would go further.

Comparing ourselves to others robs us of the chance to live a life that is authentic to who we are. It is impossible to live in a way that truly respects our individuality if we constantly benchmark it against other people’s lives, external standards and progress measures.

That’s easy to say, of course, but we’re human. It’s hard not to let comparison impact our lives from time to time. It creeps in, it gets under our skin, and it nags away at the back of our minds. But like anything when it comes to the human brain, it can be worked on. It can be re-wired, and re-directed, and harnessed in more positive ways.

So let’s get right to the heart of the problem. If we compare our child with another, and it causes us to worry that our child is not able to do something they should be able to, or achieve at a level they should be achieving at, what’s the actual problem there?

Well, it’s not that the 10 year old child standing in front of your 10 year old child is able to solve a quick-fire mathematical problem on the spot when yours can’t. The problem is that we’ve decided it’s important that every 10 year old child on the planet can solve it. Regardless of who they are, what their strengths are, what they’re interested in, what their goals are, and what their experiences in life so far have been.

Nothing matters other than that they are 10. And because they are 10, there is a clear list of academic things they should be able to do.

Nothing matters other than that they are 10. And because they are 10, there is a clear list of academic things they should be able to do.

Let me take you through a hypothetical situation:

You get talking to a family who has a child the same age as yours. You hear how they’ve just returned from a skiing trip, where their daughter carved up the mountain for three days. They show us a little video. It’s genuinely impressive. But your child has zero interest at all in skiing, so…generally…you respect that situation for what it is. You think it’s pretty cool that their daughter is a competent skier as a 10 year old, but you’re not going to lie awake at night worrying that your child isn’t.

But if we play that same scenario, replacing skiing for maths, or spelling, or reading…watch out, brain! And watch out, sleep.

As a society, we haven’t set benchmarks for almost every child on the planet in the activity of skiing. And we’d think it was odd if we did. But we have for reading. And we have for maths. And because that’s the way things have been done for some time now, we don’t think it’s odd.

But… it actually is.

And this – if we want to re-wire and re-direct our brains in ways that are more useful to us in these comparison scenarios – is where we need to start.

If we believe the benchmarks and measures society says are most important actually are, we will never stop our subconscious from comparing our children’s lives against them. But if we examine them, and question them, and truly reflect on whether they are as important as we might think, we can reduce the strength of the hold they have on us.

And eventually, we can shake that hold completely.

It’s important to be honest with yourself, too. When your child can’t multiply fractions on the spot, and another child their age can, do you feel that pain of comparison because you believe, deeply, that every child of that age should be able to do that? And that you wished, deeply, that your child could? Because if you do, then you need to adjust life to start making that happen.

The stronger you are in your convictions – the deeper you believe in the direction you are guiding your family’s life in – the less negative and confronting those comparisons will feel. The more you will be able to look at them objectively, without letting that social emotion grab you.

And the more you will see them for what they are: two completely different life paradigms that simply can’t – and shouldn’t – be compared.

As home educating parents we’ve chosen to walk away from the system that promotes comparisons and benchmarks


For at least another generation we’re going to be stuck with the prevailing benchmarks, expectations and – yes – the comparisons that come with them. As home educating parents we’ve chosen to walk away from the system that promotes those things. We’ve decided that the very essence of childhood is crying out to be redefined, that those globally standard expectations are quite odd, and that it is important to help ignite the fire of change so that future generations will not be bound by them.

And we will only do that if we keep taking the wind out of those comparisons, and living a version of life that is as true to us, and our children, as we possibly can.

So together, let’s remember: the measures are irrelevant. The comparisons are meaningless. Age should not define an academic standard, or almost any standard. Other people should never define our personal goals and markers of progress. The achievements of one child should never be expected from another. Because every child is unique. Every child has their own dreams. Every child deserves the right to be respected for who they are.

And you – you are the change.

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