Helping Your Kids Avoid Comparing

By: James P. Krehbiel

Recently, a high school freshman shared a problem he was experiencing regarding his school's homecoming. One of his friends felt that he must take a Hummer Limo to the dance rather than the garden variety Cadillac limousine. The friend told his parent, "All of my friends are using Hummers for the dance." The parent acquiesced to her daughter and consented to order the Hummer and pass the extra charges back to all the kids that were attending the homecoming dance in her group! Most of the teenagers refused to pay the additional costs for the vehicle and a conflict ensued among the kids and their parents.

The parent who ordered the Hummer limousine acted as an accomplice to the kind of behavior that people adopt when they compare their experience with others. Comparative thinking and behavior is quite typical among teenagers, but it is the responsibility of the parent to set limits and hold firmly to them. Frequently, a parent will tell me in frustration about how their child has complained about not having the very best in fashion design like their friends, or the latest electronic gadgetry that "all the other kids own."

Parents need to teach their children self-confidence. Those who are self-confident resist the urge to compare themselves to other people, and do not elevate others' experience while diminishing their own. But some people may have a mantra signified by the slogan, if only. "If only I had the money of my brother; if only I was smart like my classmates; if only I was as good looking as my friends."

Comparing oneself with others is a trap. People who compare themselves to other individuals tend to feel that they are not good enough. They tend to perseverate about their shortcomings. Even if they try their best, it is not good enough because they can always find someone who performs at a higher level.

When people compare, they generally focus on their negative traits to the exclusion of the positive. They invalidate all that is going right in their life. They also tend to minimize their successes and dismiss positive gestures and compliments by those who genuinely care about them.

Those who are confident listen to their own inner voice. They are not caught up by all the clamoring voices within their sphere of influence. They are not swayed by other people's perception of events. They are not overly-impressed by others success, money, health, and material possessions. They do not believe that others have a greater sense of emotional well-being than they do.

Recently, the Harvard Mental Health Letter published an article which indicated that people with chronic pain had as significant a sense of well-being as those without chronic pain. However, those with chronic pain tended to overestimate the emotional well-being of physically healthy people. The study confirmed that it is how we perceive events that is important, not the nature of our circumstances which may include making comparisons.

The following guidelines may be helpful for adults, parents and children who tend to give their power away by comparing themselves to someone else:

James P. Krehbiel is a licensed professional counselor, nationally certified cognitive-behavioral therapist in private practice in Scottsdale, Arizona, and a regular contributor to He can be reached at (480) 664-6665 or via email at

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