I’ll never forget the first time I found myself locked in the trap of comparison. Around the third grade, as I was playing happily at recess with my friends, a boy called me “bird legs.” It was like a knockout punch to a skinny little girl. In that life-altering moment, I became aware of how a person could be seen as “less than.” I swallowed the bait, and for many years I didn’t want to wear shorts or skirts because I was constantly comparing my legs to everyone else’s. I was trapped.
Whether in physical appearance or athletic ability, social popularity or academic prowess, kids will, at times, compare themselves to other kids. For some children, this can become a real struggle. But we can be prepared to coach our kids, regardless of their ages, through the minefield of comparison, and help them understand the value and worth that is uniquely theirs.
Nothing to envy
God doesn’t evaluate a person on being an “est”—prettiest, smartest, fastest, strongest. As Jesus teaches in the parable of the talents, God looks more at what people have done with what they’ve been given. So pay attention when you hear your kids say things like:
“I’d be happier if I had her hair.”
“I’d get better grades if I had his brain.”
“I’d go on mission trips if I had the money they do.”
Kids may not use these exact words to convey their emotions, but they do feel them. We all feel them at times. We take our eyes off the Giver, and we gaze only at the different gifts. We compare talents, personalities and accomplishments. As we assess, we become prideful, dissatisfied or fully envious of the gifts of others.
In the parable of the talents, the servants given money didn’t have to settle their accounts with each other. Instead, they had to settle their accounts with the master who had given them their talents. In the same way, what kids have and who kids are should be settled directly with their Master, not compared to those around them.
So, what can we do? Help kids move toward this understanding by encouraging them to be who they are. Start by having kids list three of their interests and three of their abilities. (You might have to help younger children.) Then come up with three action steps together that would help them develop in these areas.
When kids focus on their own strengths, there is less room for envy. After all, stories about those who do something extraordinary because they have riches, fame and power don’t inspire us very much, do they? But those who are victorious over a weakness are the heroes we aspire to be. Whenever you learn about someone who has overcome adverse circumstances — Bethany Hamilton, Nick Vujicic, Tyler Sexton — talk with your children about their sacrifice and success.
Help your kids recognize a reality of life: For every talented child there will always be someone better at what they do, and there will always be someone worse. In the parable of the talents, one servant received two portions from his master. That servant found himself between the servant who had more and the servant who had less. When kids take their eyes off of other people, recognizing that they are neither the best nor the worst, they can better concentrate on how they’ll steward what they’ve been given.
Envy holds our children back from celebrating the good things in other kids’ lives — their work, their abilities, their dedication to an area of interest. Our kids need to understand that they can sulk in their own insecurity and envy of others, or they can decide to rejoice in someone else’s success.
Celebrating another person is a choice. This choice starts with a child’s acknowledgment that natural talent, practice, hard work and circumstances all play a part in the successes of others. From there, kids need to make an intentional decision not to minimize what someone else has in order to feel better about themselves.
I’ve found that my own heart begins to change when I launch in to celebrating someone else’s achievements — even when I don’t feel like it. And — this is the clincher — it needs to be out loud and on purpose! Remind your kids to verbally express their encouragement and congratulations toward others. This is an outward demonstration of what is decided on the inside, and sometimes the feeling that this is the right thing to do doesn’t come until after the action is completed.
When kids learn to celebrate another’s good fortune, they grow in maturity and grace. They receive the freedom to be who they are. They are released from the chains of envy that would hold them back.
Both of our boys were baseball players growing up. They played every season from the time they were 6 until they were 18. They loved the game — everything about it. One summer Andrew tried out for the all-star team and didn’t make the cut, but all of his buddies made it. Talk about tough. That summer, I got my first glimpse of the strength of character I had been praying he would embrace. He spent those long weeks doing two things: working on his skills so that he could make the team next time; and cheering for his buddies as they played.
Andrew learned the importance of celebrating out loud and on purpose. It kept his friendships strong, and it kept his heart in check. Was it easy? No. Did he do it anyway? Yes. That’s exactly what we want for our kids. We want them to be able to look into a friend’s eyes and truly celebrate that person for who God made him or her to be.
The comparison trap is a no-win situation. But when our children begin to recognize that God has gifted them in just the right way — and when they learn to celebrate the gifts and talents He’s given others — there is a WIN for everyone.
Sandra Stanley is a mom of three grown children, a foster mom and the wife of Andy Stanley, founder of North Point Ministries. She’s the author of Comparison Trap: Choosing contentment in an age of awareness, a 28-Day devotional for women. She regularly blogs at sandrastanley.com.
Sheila Seifert is an editor for Focus on the Family magazine and is the author of over 20 coauthored books. Her most recent book for kids is Bible Kidventures: Stories of Danger and Courage.