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Cultivating Little Learners
Kathy Eggers & Lesli Richards

“Unlike previous generations, comparison is no longer confined to the person next door.”

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A Filtered Life: How to Escape the Comparison Trap

Aimlessly scrolling through Instagram, you sip your morning coffee and BAM… there it is again. Another mom showcases her perfect house, with her perfect kids, and the most beautiful story about their day. You have a sink full of dirty dishes, a pile of unfolded laundry on the couch, and a snotty-nosed child battling a virus. It’s all pinning you down so much that you can’t fix it if you tried. You feel defeated, disheartened, and a little jealous of her life. So you scroll on, only to see a video of your friend’s three-year-old reciting the Declaration of Independence from memory, while your child stares glassy-eyed at Bluey. You console yourself that at least your child has developed a charming Australian accent. Still scrolling, another friend is on the beach (gosh, you were hoping to afford that this year) in her bikini, six months after delivering her third baby.

What was supposed to be a relaxing few minutes to just look at your phone turned out to be a draining highjacking of your emotions. Mothers of small children can be especially vulnerable, as nap schedules keep us home more, and we fall into the fear of missing out on what is going on in the outside world.

Unlike previous generations, comparison is no longer confined to the person next door. It’s very likely your social media feed includes people from every stage of your life, friends of friends, or even celebrities. Visible likes and friend counts give us hard data about how we stack up in the world. It’s no wonder that since the advent of social media, mental health has taken a real hit. Not only has the number of people we compare ourselves to increased, the nearly constant barrage of other people’s wins have also increased. Rebecca
Webber writes in her article The Comparison Trap,

“Social media is like kerosene poured on the flame of social comparison, dramatically increasing the information about people that we’re exposed to and forcing our minds to assess. In the past, we absorbed others’ triumphs sporadically—the alumni bulletin would report a former classmate having made partner at the law firm or a neighbor would mention that his kid got into Harvard. Now such news is at our fingertips constantly, updating us about a greater range of people than we previously tracked, and we invite its sepia-filtered jolts of information into our commutes, our moments waiting in line for coffee, even our beds at 2 A.M.”

Mother holding baby and iphone with green case
Although comparison has a new ride in social media, it has plagued people from the beginning of time. One barely has to crack the Bible to run into people who struggled with this. From Cain and Abel, who compared their sacrifices, to the disciples of Christ who were arguing over who Jesus loved more—we see there is nothing new under the sun. Thankfully, God, always the most excellent example of parenting, tells us to knock it off. He instructs us to only compare ourselves with Christ, not other people. He reminds us that we all have different gifts that are used for specific purposes that he has laid out for us. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 10:12 that comparing ourselves is unwise, and Proverbs 14:30 tells us that a peaceful heart gives life to the body, but jealousy rots the bones. God tells us these things because He wants us to thrive and be uniquely who He made us to be, not our neighbor down the street or that influencer pushing protein shakes. He made us, and He knows how we work. Comparison only leads to anxiety, depression, and discontentment.
So how do we step away from the dangerous trap of comparison?
First, we need to realize that our personal growth is about us, and no one else. Try to create a “me vs. me” mentality. Notice how far you have come! Just becoming a parent has made you a more unselfish person, a kinder, more patient person. How are you growing? The main thing is to level up every day in comparison to the previous day. There will be tension and struggle as some days seem to be “two steps forward, one step back” but that is how growth takes place. Focus more on loving others instead of comparison. Homeschool blogger Brittany Ann writes, “We can’t love people well when we are too busy trying to measure our value by them or prove ourselves better than them.”

Additionally, we can take control of our social media habits rather than have them take control of us. Passive scrolling through social media is associated with negative health benefits such as poor body image, increased depression, decreased well-being, and eating disorders. In contrast, active scrolling (posting, commenting, encouraging) results in positive feelings of social connectedness and belonging. Studies have shown reducing social media exposure to thirty minutes a day results in significantly less anxiety, depression, loneliness, and sleep problems. When you use social media, try to mentally articulate what your purpose is and how long you will spend on it. Focus on following people who inspire you, rather than make you feel negative about yourself. Use your own posts to boost others, instead of crowing about your own achievements.

Probably your most powerful weapon against comparing yourself to others is gratitude. Focus on the things that are good in your life. If you are reading this, you clearly have electricity and access to modern conveniences, so start there. It is very hard to be envious and grateful at the same time. If you struggle with this, make a list and really stretch yourself by listing 100 things you are grateful for. Repeat this practice often until it becomes a habit in your life.

“Not only must we not compare our children to one another, we must encourage our kids to do the same. It is imperative that they adopt a me vs. me mentality. Remind them in your words and actions that there is no one on this earth like them.”
2 brothers holding each other smiling at the camera
Let’s take a moment and unpack how comparison impacts our young children. Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Immediately, that should push us into action to help our children stay out of the comparison trap. A childhood without joy is heartbreaking. As with any lesson we are trying to teach our children, more is caught than taught. It is extremely important that you model an attitude of contentment instead of comparison. Instead of saying, “I wish we could go to Disney World this year like the Richards’ family!” try celebrating the fun things ahead for your family—a camping trip, a staycation, a day at another family’s farm. Your pleasant and hopeful attitude sets the stage. Your children are quite observant and notice if you are in a state of discontent.

Depending on where you live, your children may not have encountered many people less fortunate than you. We suggest you be intentional about increasing your children’s awareness of those less fortunate. Model giving, both physically and financially. There are always older people in the community who could use some help with yard work. If you don’t know anyone who needs help, ask your church. When Lesli’s husband lost his job once, a friend and her children showed up with bags of basic groceries. What an excellent teacher that mother was! You don’t have to be a millionaire to have a giving spirit. Most children will create their giving habit based on their parent’s attitude of helping others.

We believe one of the most dangerous temptations as parents is to compare our children to one another. In order to keep our children from falling into the comparison trap, we must recognize that every child is different, therefore our expectations cannot be the same across the board. Not only must we not compare our children to one another, we must encourage our kids to do the same. It is imperative that they adopt a me vs. me mentality. Remind them in your words and actions that there is no one on this earth like them.

They were created unique for a purpose that God has designed for them. It is our goal as parents to help them reach their full potential, not their sibling’s or best friend’s potential. Try to tell your young children often, “I am so glad you are YOU!”

We recognize that most children will struggle with comparison at some point. It could be that they don’t read as well as their brother, they can’t catch a ball as well as their neighbor, or they can’t run as fast as their dad. When they start making “I can’t” statements, encourage them to add the word “yet” at the end of their sentence. Remind them that they are making progress and that progress will pay off in their skill soon enough. When your children are discouraged, don’t be afraid of meeting them in their big feelings. Help them name them and reflect on those emotions. Once children feel comfortable identifying their big emotions, they can more easily process how they are feeling and move forward. This is a great coping skill for your children to learn at an early age.

Lastly, don’t be afraid to say no to or limit social media when the time comes. We’ve watched lots of families over the last twenty years, and the kids who were more limited in their social media tend to be well adjusted and resilient. We know that most of your preschoolers are not walking around scrolling through Instagram, but it is possible that they might see what you are scrolling through. Know that little eyes and ears are always picking up on what you say, see, and do. Be mindful of scrolling for yourself and your children’s sake. When a parent has healthy boundaries with social media, their children are more likely to develop healthy boundaries in that area. While it is so easy to get lost in scrolling, comparing yourself to someone else’s highlight reel will not make you a better parent. You know what will? Staring into the beautiful faces of your children, fresh from God, and telling them that nothing compares to the privilege of getting to be there with them every day!

Activity for Children
Make an “I am remarkable because…” book with your children. Fold paper and cardstock (for the cover) to make a blank book. Brainstorm with your children about the things they are grateful for about themselves.

  • What are they good at?
  • What quirky personality traits do they possess that make them unique?
  • What great things do they do for others?

(Moms, this a great journaling prompt for you too, especially if you’ve struggled with comparison lately!)

Resources for putting down the phone: Hands-Free Mama by Rachel Macy Stafford How to Break Up with Your Phone: The 30-Day Plan to Take Back Your Life by Catherine Price.

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Kathy Eggers smiling with a green scarf on

athy Eggers has been in the field of early childhood and homeschooling for over thirty years. She is the mom of ten children, ranging in age from fourteen to thirty-six. Her family has grown to include three grandchildren, with number four on the way. Kathy has taught her children at home since the very beginning, and each year has looked a little different. As a child development specialist, young children have always been her passion. Kathy believes the early years should be full of play and concrete experiences. When given the chance to discover and experience the world first-hand, wonder grows in a child and provides them with a foundation for abstract thinking as they mature. Children who are encouraged to play and figure things out for themselves in the early years are more willing to take risks and problem solve as they become adults. As Mr. Rogers put it, “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning.”

Lesli Richards smiling, outside

esli Richards is the co-author of The Homegrown Preschooler and A Year of Playing Skillfully and co-host of the Playing Skillfully podcast. She has had the pleasure of teaching her five children at home for the past eighteen years. Lesli has been married to Brendan for twenty-six years and lives in beautiful North Georgia. She has always loved children and dreamed of having a large, happy family. Her oldest son has autism and had to be taught to play, which sparked her interest in how children learn. Lesli believes that children learn best through play and exploration and loves researching and presenting her findings to parents in a way that is practical and easy to implement. There is so much to discover about how God has wired kids to learn!