Mum S.O.S: Dealing with your child being compared

Q: How do you deal with your child being compared to similar aged children who are wealthier, smarter and better behaved than yours?

A: The first thing to remember is that each child is beautiful in his/her own right. They are individual and unique. Our focus should be on them and their abilities, strengths and talents. It is important to praise them for what they are able to do and not reprimand them for what they are not capable of. Praising their efforts is essential. Encouraging them to try is vital. Always showing them your love is crucial. If we do these things then our children are likely to have self-belief, enabling them to cope with the knocks that life will inevitably throw at them.

As mothers, we inevitably compare and contrast our children to others, especially as new mums. It is our way of checking that we are doing okay and that our babies are alright. However, with this comes a pressure and stress to have our babies and ourselves ‘up and running’ before we have even left the labour room! We need to remind ourselves that each child will do things in their own time and when they reach their developmental milestones has no lasting effect on their qadr, insha’Allah. If we rush things, we will not be able to enjoy each step as it happens as we will be busy thinking about the next one.

Comparing children to others is a trap best avoided as it is one that can lead to inferiority complexes, jealousies, insecurities, low self-esteem and lack of confidence. It is not easy to steer clear completely from it, as someone in your circle of friends or family is bound to do it. However, it is often done without due thought or attention. Indeed, it is how we as parents respond to the comparison, not the comparison itself, that is likely to impact most on our children

When someone else begins the comparison game, don’t get drawn into it. Change the subject or move away. If this is not possible and particularly if your child is present, make a comment that indicates to your child that you are happy with him or her as they are. If you are unable to do this, when you are alone with your child, discuss the incident with them: ask them how they felt about it and let them know that you would not have them any other way. If they feel secure in your love and affections, what others say will have little or no impact. If the person who is making the comparison is someone you are able to speak to and is likely to listen to what you have to say, try taking them aside and telling them how you feel about comparisons; own what you are saying and do not blame them as that is only likely to offend and ‘get their backs up’. Also, remember that they may not have been aware of what they were doing.

I notice that you mention comparing children’s behaviour. One thing to note here is that we tend to compare our children to those who are seemingly better behaved at that moment. We are seeing the other child beautifully behaved and impeccably mannered. What we are not seeing is that before leaving the house, they had an almighty tantrum which left their mother wondering if they would ever make it out the door! Accept your child as a whole and appreciate that they are mostly wonderful and on occasion little monsters. We can’t always be perfect so why would we expect our children to be?

Of course, some children run faster than others, some can jump higher whilst others are able to throw further. What matters to children is that, in the eyes of their parents, they are valued for themselves and that they are viewed as having equal worth to others.

If a child has delays in learning how to speak, how can parents cope with relatives that do not understand? And how can we encourage the child to express himself without the tantrums? Concerned Mum

Dr Nicole says:

Parenting is certainly a stressful job! In addition to worries about all aspects of your child’s well-being and how good a job you’re doing as a parent, there is also judgment from others, especially family members and close friends. The latter can be especially nerve-wracking since those doing the judging may not have an accurate window into your or your child’s situation.

Add to these issues having a child with special needs, such as speech/language, intellectual or physical delays, and the anxiety usually increases tenfold. When it’s discovered that their child has a delay or special need, parents can experience a range of emotions including confusion, disappointment, anger, sadness, denial, fear (especially about the unknown future), guilt (‘What did I do to cause this?’) and rejection. Parents may sense that they or their child are being rejected by family members, other parents and children, or community members. Although this is seldom talked about, there are times when parents feel that they want to reject their child – or at least the part of their child that’s not ‘perfect’. Eventually, however, many parents develop a deep commitment to improving their child’s condition and even see the child’s disability as a unique blessing in disguise.

A part of how family or others are responding to you, Concerned Mum, is based on their own fears and lack of information. Sometimes, in the face of their discomfort about not knowing how to treat a child with special needs, they can become negative, judgmental or mocking. As parents, you have to decide how you want to respond to such behaviour. One approach is to provide them with information about your child’s particular delay, let them know the support you and your child need from them, and point out how their comments and lack of understanding affect you. For many, this positive appeal will work and you may find family and friends becoming a great deal more sensitive. Of course, there will be relatives who still do not seem to have the words empathy or understanding in their vocabulary. In these instances, you will have to set boundaries. This could include anything from limiting your time with the offending relatives, making it clear that you don’t want to discuss your child’s delay, to supervising all time between that family member and your child.

As for parenting your child, arming yourself with information and support are the first steps. Has your child had a professional evaluation and plan for addressing the problem? Have you sought support from other parents or organisations that can help? Secondly, as a general rule, your child and you will benefit from a consistent, structured daily routine. All children, but particularly those with special needs, need to know what to expect daily and from their caregivers. Tantrums can be a child’s way of trying to convey certain wants and needs. It is essential that you establish healthy ways for your child to communicate, with the assistance of a professional if necessary, as well as providing outlets for your child to express the wide array of feelings he/she is experiencing. These can include expressive outlets such as drawing, imaginative play, movement, sound, etc. Hopefully, you can receive guidance from the specialists working on your case, but also don’t be afraid to seek advice from other experienced parents.

Here are a few tips for parenting your wonderful child with special needs:

  • Recognise that you’re not alone and make time to take care of yourself;
  • Arm yourself with reliable information about your child’s diagnosis and treatment options;
  • Find programmes specific to your child’s needs;
  • Get support from groups and other parents (there are numerous national and local organisations that provide information and sponsor groups or online networks);
  • Appreciate the importance of communicating with your spouse and/or other family members who understand the situation;
  • Keep up connections with your other children;
  • Set boundaries with family members who are negative or judgmental.

Most importantly, your faith can serve as a valuable source of motivation and inspiration. Prayer, reading Qur’an, and attending community events are all ways of fostering hope, decreasing isolation and coping with the challenges of parenting a child with special needs.



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