The sneaky self-comparison connection between being grateful and developing positive self-image

by Julia H.

So, I kid you not, there I was, on Facebook during the school break looking at everyone's holiday pictures. In our household, I tend to be the parent who is responsible for creating the holiday magic - I make costumes at Halloween, help get Valentine's cards signed and sorted out for classroom celebrations, and, in December, I make or otherwise acquire, wrap, and display the gifts, stuff the stockings, put up lights, etc. So, looking at everyone else's holiday displays, it was very difficult not to compare my efforts to everyone else's. Wow, Audrey and Chris's pile of gifts is HUGE, I didn't even think to decorate cookies like Eric and Jay did, and wow, Amy's house is so clean, and she's a single mom working two jobs, how does she even manage that? Every time I thought about how my efforts stacked up to those of others, it left me feeling worse, with my efforts seeming more meager by comparison. It was heading to a bad place, and quickly. And, more than that, I thought about how soon enough my kids would be heading back to school, where, undoubtedly, they would be hearing stories about other kids' holiday extravaganzas. How could I protect them from feeling the way I did when I compared our holiday to everyone else's.

Taking a step away from the internet, I thought about what made me feel good about our holiday efforts, things like the fact that, this year, I made a lot of our gifts by hand, that we made more time to connect with our friends during the holiday break than we had in previous years. All the examples I could think of involved making a self-comparison, between myself and my efforts now, and myself and my efforts in previous years. Because these comparisons let me reflect on how I've changed, it's easy to see things in a more positive light. Turns out there's lots of psychological research to back this up - if you're interested in going down a rabbit hole, you can read all about Social Comparison Theory (originally proposed by psychologist Leon Festinger in the 1950s).

So, how can we help kids to avoid comparing their holiday gifts, and, by extension, themselves, to others? And what can we do when our kids tell us that so-and-so got a brand new ipad, and why didn't they?
 

  • Establish a family tradition where you practice self-comparisons. It's New Year's, why not take a moment to ask everyone in the family what is something that they feel like they are better at this year than they were last year?

  • Acknowledge that, yes, there are differences between what your child received as a gift, is capable of doing without help, or whatever the comparison to another person might be, then redirect to a more appropriate self-comparison. "Yes, they got an ipad. Do you remember what gifts you received? Which gift was your favorite? What is something that you really like about that gift?"

  • If your child is worried that someone is better at some skill than they are, it might be worth talking about practice and how it impacts skill - but also talk about the importance of fun. "Yes, Colton is better at soccer than you. Colton plays soccer every day for at least an hour a day, and when you do something a lot, you tend to get better at it. Do you have fun when you play soccer? Is it something you want to do more, and practice to get better, or do you like it just the way it is?"
  • Model positive self-comparison, and, if you find yourself comparing yourself to others, try to frame it in a context of positive self comparison. "Wow, I really wish I could decorate our house the way our neighbors do each year. But, you know what? I decided to spend my time making gifts instead of buying them at the store, and I feel good about that. It meant I didn't have as much time for fancy decorations, but I am still really proud of the work that I did."

How do you help teach your kids not to compare themselves to others? Send your tips to weeklysqueak@bothellfamilycoop.org and you may be featured in a future Squeak!