Stop with the -est

If you have ever played a board game with me, you might have picked up on some subtle clues to my competitive spirit. Ok, maybe on a lot of clues. . . I am really competitive in games. I like to win!
Outside the world of board games, however, I am trying to overcome my sense of unnecessary competition. I wrote another post a few weeks ago on the same topic. Read it here.

Today, the theme of unnecessary competition is on my mind, but I wanted to describe how it can affect your children. To start, think of all the words that end with the letters -est. How many of these types of words do you say to your children each day?

"You're the smartest kid in your class."
"You're the prettiest little girl at church."
"You're the best dancer in the entire auditorium!"
"That was great! You were the best piano player in the whole concert."

Are there other phrases that come to mind?

You may think I'm crazy to assert that these phrases will not help your child in the long run. How could such supportive comments ever be detrimental to your child's emotional stability? It is because the "-est" comments rest on the assumption that other people are inferior. If Bobby is the smartest, than Sally must be less intelligent. If Tina's piano playing the the best, then Richard's skill is less important. Comments that use "-est" words subconsciously send the message that self-esteem is related to putting others down a notch.

Now, I am not advocating that we stop complimenting our children. Our love and support is a major boost to our their emotional well-being. Studies show that supportive parents can even help their children attain a higher standard of living someday. What I am suggesting is that we change the way we compliment our children.
Examples could include:

"You look beautiful today! I like the way you styled your hair."
"You worked really hard on your science project. I am so proud of your grit and determination."
"Your dance moves in the ballet recital left me speechless."
"I love hearing you play the piano. It is so calming, and you play so expertly."

In these examples, the parent still congratulates and compliments the child, plus no one else is thrown under the bus. The compliments are also more personal and unique. Instead of encouraging unnecessary competition, the child is given sincere praise that highlights their individual attributes and talents. 

Think of the effect these phrases will have on a child's self-esteem. The unconscious message of "You are special, just the way you are" will be consistently reinforced, rather than an idea that their worth is dependent on out-doing some other person. A child will learn that his or her efforts are good enough, worthy, desirable, acceptable, and noticed.

As a new mom with my oldest child, I sometimes let my competitive nature get in the way of my friendships with other moms. Instead of being fully present with my son's abilities, I wanted him to excel above all the other babies his age. Simon was the first to roll over and the first to crawl out of his play-date friends, but he was then the last to talk and the last to walk. Humility slowly developed in my heart as time went on. I learned that being "the best" was unnecessary competition. I eventually came to the conclusion that all successes are worth celebrating! So what if the little girl at church learned to walk before Simon; it didn't make him any less special. And it didn't make me an inferior mother. It was liberating to let go of competition! I felt happier and less stressed about how other people view me and my children.

How can you remove unnecessary competition from your own life?





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