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Motivating Our Children for Success, without Comparisons


Most of us avoid being around people that compare us negativity with others. We know that it is painful to hear such comments and we would, for the most part of it NOT like to hear them!

(Image: Freepik)

Whether it is comments on our limited skills in comparison to others, our limited bank accounts compared to others or imperfections in our appearance compared to others, we would rather NOT hear them. Hearing that we are not clever enough, rich enough or tall enough is not exactly motivating or inspiring. We would rather be at a far distance from people making such negative comparisons about us. If such people were to invite us for dinner, we would quickly come up with an excuse for NOT joining.

Given this, why is it then, that we quite readily compare our children negatively with others? When interviewing parents on this question, the overwhelming majority replied that they compared their children with others in order to motivate them. So the intention is a very positive one – to motivate the child - yet in reality what are the results of comparing?

Comparing one child with another will leave them feeling vulnerable on two counts; If they are compared negativity to other children, it often leads to low self confidence and inferiority complexes inhibiting the child from achieving their true potential. If they are compared favorably they will usually feel superior to other children, which can lead to arrogance and selfishness. Both comparisons decrease our sense of true self worth and create insecurities


Comparing bears the fruit of insecurity and this can often lead to jealousy of others. Jealousy will damage sibling relationships and create frequent conflict. Such jealousy may often mean that they are insecure with others success and in extreme cases they may also try and stop others from succeeding.

At the very least they would not be able to enjoy the success and development of others around them and would often feel sad and hurt. As the children grow up, in their personal relationships, jealousy could lead them to feel threatened by their partner’s friendships with others.

(Image: Freepik)

Mike George shares: “Comparing yourself with another is one of the most disempowering habits.” He continues, “In so doing we seldom feel our self-esteem becoming stronger, and if we do, it is more likely to be a short lived inflation of our ego, and deflation must follow.”

I worked with the chief accountant for Coca Cola some years ago and he shared with me the lasting impact of being compared negatively with his younger brother as he was growing up. He explained that while he was successful he could never really enjoy his success and found it hard to cooperate with others at work. He also shared that he was very critical of his own children even though he knew that this was damaging for them.

If children are compared regularly and develop insecurities even if they study for hours and hours, their insecurities create fears which in turn greatly limit their retention of their study material. Learning researchers have found that when a person is feeling insecure the pathways on the brain contract and the information cannot easily flow into the memory. Thus insecure students do not easily retain information in their subconscious mind and they also struggle to recall information stored in their memory.

So comparing our children is damaging and ineffective yet, how can we motivate them to progress?

(Image: Freepik)

There is NO one model - children develop at their own time: Einstein for example could not speak until four years old and not read until seven years of age yet, look what he achieved later in life. Charles Darwin wrote in his autobiography that he was considered by all his teachers and his father to be very slow intellectually. Beethoven’s teacher also judged him to be without a future.

WALT DISNEY was fired from his first job for not being creative enough! PELÉ, the amazing soccer player was told by a coach when he was young that he would never be a good player.

Should we just become passive and allow our children not try to develop themselves? No. Instead we need to have Effective Motivators

Instead of comparing it is more effective to:

  • Then challenge the child to continually further their own individual level of achievement in steps which provide a challenge but not an impossible goal.

  • First praise their current achievements - what they are doing well already. This can take practice on the part of the parents, especially if their children are not fulfilling their expectations. Yet it is effective to encourage them first to give them motivation and self esteem.

Achievements can be seen to come in steps and we can show the children achievable steps to further themselves and no comparisons with others need to be involved in this at all. In this way the children are motivated to develop in a way that also strengthens their self-esteem.

"Success comes not from comparing yourself with others, but from running your own race.” Celine Dion, the singer of the Titanic theme song, “My Heart Will Go On “also uses this method: Celine shares, "I never compare myself with others. My aim is always to perform better than my last performance.”

So in summary, with children support them in developing their own sense of uniqueness and value for themselves and their own specialties. Use stories on self-esteem and values to develop a solid self-respect.

Thirdly, encourage children to create their own goals for themselves and enjoy the fun of achieving them. When they do not achieve them, also support them in seeing that as an opportunity to learn how we can be more effective in future. When goals are not achieved ask them, “How can you do this more effectively in future?” Or, “What can we learn from this for the future?”

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