It all starts at a very early age….
“Max, you don’t need a nappy, be a big boy like your friends. None of them still wear a nappy”
Max is 3 years old and already I am questioning whether this common tactic is sewing the seeds for a life of comparing himself with other people and external superficial factors.
I have decided to write this blog from a parent’s perspective. I use the word perspective in my public talks on confidence. The angle at which you look at something provides you with a completely different view. I believe, more than any other time in history, we are guilty of comparing our own situations to others.
During my talks I highlight the fact we normally only take perspective when something awful happens in our life. I believe this to be a terrible shame as I know we could be a lot happier, at least more content, if were grateful for what we have on a daily basis.
Try this, write 3-4 post-it notes with things you could be grateful for and put them on your bathroom mirror so they are amongst the first things you see each day. This simple exercise can start your day with a much healthier mindset.
It is easy to relate this to the world of tennis where players and parents are constantly comparing themselves (and their children) to other people and/or external superficial factors in the sport. Let’s take a look at just a few of the areas children and parents compare within:
- Rankings of peers
- Results of peers
- Form of peers
- Selection for training squads
- Selection for team events
- Popularity of peers
- Attention from coaches of peers
- Attention from sponsors of peers
- Rankings of other children
- Results of other children
- Form of other children
- Selection for training squads
- Selection for team events
- What events others get into
- Where other children are training
- How many hours other children are training
- Who coaches other children
- Who is getting funding
- How much funding are others getting
These lists could go on and on. The reality is children and parents are spending significant portions of time concerning themselves with things that are 100% out of their control.
The consequences for children comparing themselves are they start to attach their self worth to results, form and status within the game. This takes away the sheer joy of playing and competing. It can also lead to genuine unhappiness, and in some cases, depression, anxiety, eating disorders and self harm.
The consequences for parents comparing their children to others is just as severe if not worse. All of the above can happen with the added downside of the parent/child relationship being damaged or broken. The feeling of ‘not being good enough’ in a child is completely devastating and it will stay with them for the rest of their lives.
So, what do we do about this? I’ve already highlighted one example from my own parenting experiences. I believe we need to put a stop to the constant comparison with other children and families. How many holidays do they have? How big is their house? How many cars? What type of cars? How much was that watch? Who’s kids are potty trained? The list is endless.
Children are unbelievably efficient at picking up on these vibes. We must be very careful about how we talk about others in front of them as they will start to value these opinions and take them as their own. As parents, any comparison with other children should be squashed as early as possible. We need to focus only on our own children and their individual needs. If we hear our children comparing themselves with others then we have an opportunity to remind them it doesn’t change anything. We offer them unconditional love and conditional support. Think about that for a second….
Have you ever witnessed a child being on the receiving end of conditional love in sport? If so, have you ever seen them receive unconditional support from their parents? This is a deadly cocktail for a child. My parent loves me more when I win and regardless of how bad my attitude or behaviour is I will receive unconditional support. I urge you to think about this for a second….
When we refer to coaching methods, we have an opportunity to plan the progress of our children with the help from a coach. This has to be related to their own performances and most important drill down into what processes are required to make these goals come to life. If a child has a genuine focus then they cannot and will not feel the need to compare to others. The wheels may come off every now and again and that is when we become the bumpers in bowling. This is our opportunity to remind them of what the plan is and what they could focus on instead.
Tennis is an amazing game and there are so many transferable learnings that can be taken from it but only when there is a healthy sense of perspective so to finish here are my top tips for creating a healthy perspective:
- Look for happiness – when it arrives celebrate it – more happiness equals less sadness
- Praise healthy behaviours in your children – reliance, determination, problem solving…..
- Be impartial – this takes so much discipline but the long-term dividends are huge
- Make a plan – set goals – understand process
- Walk the talk – lead by example
- Surround yourself with positive people
- If they must compare make sure it is healthy – genuinely want the best for others
At the end of the day, nothing is more important than happiness and health. Constantly comparing with others only brings bitterness and negativity. Us parents have an huge opportunity to bring a happy and healthy perspective to our children. We can offer them unconditional love and then consider what conditions can be involved in our support.
If we have to to compare ensure it is in a healthy way but whatever you do, compare with caution.
Oh, btw, Max wears big boy pants now…… now on to the next process…..