Comparing your child with others (and why it's not always a bad thing)

Daring to compare: "I couldn't help but look around me to see what everyone else was doing."
Daring to compare: "I couldn't help but look around me to see what everyone else was doing." Photo: Getty Images

When Sammy Chandler’s son Mikey was born he spent time in intensive care. From that moment on, Sammy compared Mikey to other babies to monitor how he was faring. 

“I noticed that Mikey wasn't as alert and active as the other babies in our group. He liked to sleep a lot. By six months the other kids were able to sit up unsupported, most were rolling over, they were eating solids, they were ‘correctly’ playing with toys,” she says. “By seven or eight months they were all crawling, and then by 12 months they were walking. And Mikey was doing none of those.” 

Although Sammy’s friends told her Mikey would develop at his own rate, the Chandlers saw an army of specialists to try and solve the mystery. They found nothing wrong with Mikey, and in his own time he is developing into a warm and charming little boy. 

But comparisons aren’t always because your child is behind. From the second Lilly came into the world and looked into her mother’s eyes, Katie Dunn noticed her newborn was an alert and remarkably vocal baby. 

“If she wasn't cooing and babbling, she was screaming her head off. This kid just had things she needed to say,” Katie recalls. 

By 10 months Lilly had eclipsed her peers with the amount of words she knew. “By 12 months naming the pictures in a book was a piece of cake, and Lilly was able to string a proper sentence together around 18 months.” 

Katie’s friends would often be stunned by the complicated sentences Lilly would compose, but without drawing comparisons Katie wouldn’t have known anything was unusual. 

“I think you can read all the books you like about what they are supposed to do by when, and you know that each kid develops at their own rate, but as she was my first, I couldn't help but look around me to see what everyone else was doing,” she says. “I'm proud of her, I guess. She's definitely bright.” 

Knowing logically that kids develop at their own rate is one thing, but it was an invitation to a play date at a bowling alley with kids the same age that first raised a flag for Amy Hall regarding her two-year-old son Caleb. 

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“I was so thrown. 'Your children can go bowling? The lights, all the noise, the need to follow direction, really? You take your child to places like that? And they don't just meltdown and freak out?'” she remembers thinking. “It was around then I started seeing other children his age weren't as sensitive.” 

Amy asked a friend, who was an early childhood teacher, for her thoughts on his behavior as she began to suspect something may be amiss. 

“In the very first stage, when we started looking at autism spectrum disorder, I asked her if she saw it,” she says. She said her friend had also noticed something different in Caleb but had chosen not to mention it until asked. 

“She told me she hadn’t said anything because she knew the mother I was, and that he was getting everything he needed from me already.” 

Although it’s important to remember that children develop at different rates, comparing your child’s behavior is a completely normal practice, according to Dr Helga Hemberger, clinical psychologist at Kids & Co. Clinical Psychology. 

“Making comparisons between our child and others is a very natural and universal process, and studies show that it is associated with – and can be very helpful in – decision making, for example, ‘do I need to do something about my child's speech or handwriting?’” she says. 

“The best advice, if you’re concerned, is to seek clarification from health services who base their advice on demographic data involving thousands of children, not just a small cohort.” 

Dr Hemberger says that it’s always better to check with an expert, rather than just letting yourself stew over something that will probably ultimately turn out to be no problem at all. She advises speaking to your doctor or calling Parent Line's Early Childhood Intervention Information service on 1300 130 052.  

“Empower yourself by getting the facts rather than becoming prematurely alarmed," she says.