Children: Compare and contrast

My son started walking and talking when he was seven months old. I leant him up against the couch and he shuffled one foot forward before he fell on his face. Then he said “ga ga na”, which kind of sounded like “coconut”. That’s walking and talking, right? Well what would you call it then?

Parents sometimes exaggerate their children’s achievements. In most cases, they don’t even realise they’re doing it. They forget about the failures and remember the successes. They round up or down to make the numbers sound more impressive. It’s a primal instinct that goes back millions of years to a time when the only way to ensure that your child would survive in the harsh and unforgiving paleolithic wilderness was to tell all your mates that he hit a golf ball fifty metres on his first try.

This kind of exaggeration should be harmless. It shouldn’t make any difference to us whether or not somebody else’s child really walked at seven months of age, or recited the alphabet flawlessly, or conducted the London Philharmonic. Unless we’re secretly comparing our kids to theirs. And we’d never do that, would we?

Of course, it is hard to resist the urge to compare your children to others. I have to admit that I feel proud whenever one of my kids does something earlier or better than the other kids in their peer group. And it doesn’t matter how trivial the achievement is either, or how little they actually did to achieve it. I’m proud of my kids for being tall. What does that say about me?

Parental pride is a balancing act. I want my children to know that I’m proud of them, I want the world to know that I’m proud of my children, and I want my children to know that I want the world to know that I’m proud of my children. But I don’t want to let that pride turn into boastfulness, and I certainly don’t want to start inventing things to boast about. Children learn from our example, and the last thing I need is my son telling people that his dad could beat Chuck Norris in a fight. I could get seriously messed up.

The truth is that some children do develop quicker than others. But it’s important to remember that there’s usually a wide range of ages at which it’s considered normal to pass each developmental milestone, and that a child’s relative position within that range of normality has little bearing on their long term development. My son is nearly nine months old and he doesn’t have any teeth yet. He hasn’t started crawling either. He just sits around flapping his gums while the other babies get on with business. None of this concerns me, though, because he’s still well within the range of normal development for a child his age. Ultimately, most of us end up figuring out how to crawl. And scientists are yet to find a correlation between “age of first tooth production” and “number of Nobel prizes”.

If you are the competitive type, it can be tempting to take part in pointless games of one-upmanship with other parents. If somebody tells a story about their child, you try to beat it with a more impressive story about your own child. This kind of exchange usually escalates into a conversational arms race that only ends when one of you concedes that your child never went to the moon.

But you don’t have to play those games. You don’t always have to have a better story. You could just smile, nod, and mentally filter any questionable claims to remove the parental bias.

“Little Jack can read” might mean that Little Jack’s parents have read his favourite book to him so many times that he can now regurgitate memorised sentences based on the pictures he sees on each page.

“Little Madison can swim” might mean that Little Madison can wear a floatation device and thrash her arms and legs about like a drunken octopus at a Motorhead concert until she eventually drifts in a more or less random path across the surface of a pool.

“Little Herbert graduated from university” might mean that Little Herbert has an arts degree.

Taking these claims with a grain of salt might make you feel a little bit better but I think the healthiest approach of all is simply to let them slide. What does it matter after all? Exaggerated or not, the achievements of another child shouldn’t make any difference to how you feel about your own kids. Remember that comparing your kids to others is like eating a flamingo. Sure, it might satisfy you on one level but way down deep inside yourself, you know that it’s just plain wrong.

Are you secretly competitive about developmental milestones? Leave a comment and tell me all about it. And don’t forget to subscribe for more hard-hitting parental commentary direct to your Inbox or RSS Feed.

2 Responses to 'Children: Compare and contrast'

  1. Glenn Murray says:

    LOL: ““Little Herbert graduated from university” might mean that Little Herbert has an arts degree.” Love it. (And I have an arts degree.)

  2. Mark says:

    Does entering your children in a highly illegal underground toddler fight club count as competitive?

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