Dear Tulum,

My son turns six this fall. Lately he has taken to comparing himself to everyone and bragging about how much better he is at EVERYTHING! Not only am I embarrassed by his behavior, I also don’t want him to go through life with such a swelled head.

— Suggestions?

Dear Suggestions,

Developmentally competition begins around the age of 6, so in that regard your son is right on target. The trick here is to foster healthy competition that motivates us to do our best and excel in our personal efforts. Encourage your son to compete with himself. Graph his efforts and focus on his bettering HIS record, not someone else's.
The other piece, that of “I’m better than you.” is called the “better than “ game and needs some attention. Most of us, no matter our age, go around with our internal comparison meter going full blast. We constantly evaluate ourselves in regards to others and gauge the results, “better than, lesser than...” This is a great opportunity for your entire family to clean up their act.

Here’s How:

1. Name it. “Oh I just played the “better than” game. Explain what it means. “In my head I just compared myself to ____ and decided I am “better than” him.

2. Discuss how it feels to us. “I have to admit that I like it when I feel better than someone else!” Remember that admitting that we do something AND looking at what we gain from it is the first step to changing a behavior.

3. Discuss how it feels to the other person when we make a comment about us being better than them. “Hmm, if I tell ____ that I am better at ___ than them, it is the same as saying “This means you are not as good at _____ as me. It probably hurts ____feelings.” The web gets tangled because most of us can’t separate what we do from who we are so when we are compared and come out “lesser than” we translate this into “It’s not just that I can’t do ___as well as ___. It’s that I AM NOT GOOD AS ____.” That’s where the toxicity comes in. Bottom Line: It’s not just about us. If we are verbalizing our “better thaness” we do so at someone else’s expense. Stop. Your six year old is right in the middle of developing his logical thinking and social awareness. It is time for him to get the bigger picture.

4. Problem solve about how you can look at things differently AND MOST IMPORTANTLY, verbalize things in a way that acknowledges personal success without taking away from other’s efforts. “Wow, I just beat my record by 1 second. Let’s check if you beat your time!”

5. Apologize and make amends for the times you mess up. It’s a given that you will. Modeling grace and dignity under the pressure of making a mistake will serve your son a great deal more than the brief rush of seeming better than someone, or worse, denying that you or he did it.

6. Celebrate the times you and he get it right!