Motivation, or Comparison?

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

BabyMoo is adjusting well to playgroup and day care, but when I drop him off in the mornings, he sometimes still cries and makes it known that he would rather be with me. The good thing about him (which makes me very proud of the little boy) is that he doesn't cling on to me when I leave him at the school gates in the capable hands of his teacher. He willingly goes to his teacher, sometimes with silent tears as he struggles to fight the sobs which threaten to escape, simply because he has promised me that he would try to always be brave and not cry.

It's hard for me to see him trying to control his emotions every morning, although his teacher has told me repeatedly that he's perfectly fine the moment I disappear from sight.

When he first joined the school in March, there were only two other kids in his age group, one of whom goes home just after lunch time. BabyMoo is basically a very sociable boy, and loves to be around other little people, so the first two weeks was very difficult for him, especially since his only other classmate is very reserved and quiet.

Just recently, 3 other kids (2 girls, and a boy) joined the class.

BabyMoo is a creature of habit, but he is usually very adaptable to change once he ascertains that nothing is taken away from him in the process. He is also extremely protective, and in certain cases - possessive, too. I knew all about the new kids in his class, so last week, I casually asked him if he has new friends in school. He gave me a very enthusiastic answer, and I then mentioned their names as part of our conversation.

He reacted quite strongly when I brought up the boy's name (let's call him JJ). He said: "No, Mehmee, no need." all the while shaking his head and waving his hands to indicate no.

Surprised, I probed further.

I asked him if JJ is nice. He remained silent.
I asked if JJ is his friend. He answered with a vehement: Nope!
Why not? I asked. He just shook his head, and said "Shi (Lao Shi, for his Chinese teacher, who happens to be his favourite person in the entire school) MINE.

Ah, ok. The little Moo is jealous.

I explained to him that the teachers care for all of them, and they have to make sure that everyone is looked after as well. It doesn't mean that just because Lao Shi attends to JJ, she cares for him any less. It also doesn't mean that just because Mummy cannot spend the entire day with him, I love him any less.

He then pointed to himself, and sadly told me: Me Good Boy.

I was, naturally, concerned. I don't want to assume the worst, but I did wonder as to why he reacted the way he did to the new boy. What was it that made him feel it necessary to tell me that he has been good? I tried to quell my thoughts, and told myself that I was overreacting, but knowing my child the way I do, I wasn't entirely comfortable with his reaction.

The next day, I decided to ask his teachers about how he is adjusting to the new kids. His teacher told me that he plays well with them, but would usually either ignore JJ or simply decide to walk away when JJ comes within his 'space'. I delved further into it, and realised that JJ has adapted very well, and has not shown the usual 'separation difficulties' which many kids do. Perhaps the fact that JJ came from an infant care also made it easier for him to ease into the day care option.

Just in that brief 5 minutes of conversation, I had an inkling as to what could be the cause of BabyMoo's reactions toward the other boy. While clearly unintended, perhaps certain comparisons have been made during the course of the day. Maybe it could well be that BabyMoo cried during drop off, and to encourage him to stop, he was told that JJ is not crying, and being a good boy. What was meant to motivate him to follow suit could well have made him feel small.

That night, I spoke to the boy just before he went to bed. I told him I understand that he cries because he misses Mummy and Daddy. It's okay to miss us, because we miss him too, and it doesn't mean that when he cries because he is sad, it does not make him a good boy (I avoid using the word naughty or any negative words as a personal preference). I also mentioned to him that he can play with JJ, so that the hours in the day will pass faster, and before he realises it, he would see us in the evening.

I asked him if he understands me, and that he can make an effort to be friends with JJ.
He nodded, and said 'Kay Mehmee...' (I smile, told him I love him so very much, while inside, my heart breaks)

I don't blame the adults in the school, least of all, his teachers. As adults, our main aim is to motivate the kids, but often, we can come across as making a comparison. The negative vibes are usually grasped by younger kids, who are not discerning enough or have a lack of in-depth understanding of situations.

Picture this. Just this morning - in my efforts to help him ease into the situation, I found myself telling him: "You're a big boy, and you want to show the teachers that you're a good boy as well, right? and in the same breath, before I could stop myself, I found myself saying: JJ doesn't cry, so you cannot cry too, okay?"

I should have slapped myself. There I was, totally aware of how manipulative simple words can be, yet I didn't watch my thoughts... for I allowed them to become words. What was meant to motivate him became a double edged sword, for I was completely guilty of making a comparison. Even though it was not meant to degrade, it sounded very much like I was expecting the kid to prove something, not only for himself - but to the adults around him.

I realised how easy it was to become the very parent which I cautioned myself never to be. I've never agreed with parents who tell their kids that Auntie So and So's kid or Cousin So and So managed to get As, so why not them? I don't think much of parents who push their kids simply for bragging rights, and perhaps just to inflate their egos when their kids are better than the other kids.

I was ashamed of myself, but I could not take back my words.

As parents, we walk that fine line between motivating and comparing each and every day. Words are easy to speak, but sometimes, their echoes are truly endless. I hope to never make that same mistake again.

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  1. We all are guilty of that. - pat pat-
    And you are better than many who are clueless about their impact on their children. We just need more of a filter between our brain and our mouth. :)

    1. Ya... this is getting to be more difficult than I bargained for, and I'm only past 2 years!

      I think it's worse for us because we know what we are NOT supposed to do, yet sometimes, seem unable to control ourselves in time. :(

  2. The LAM and I try very hard not to use comparison as a tool to motivate, but it still slips out ever so often. I think a large part of it is due to how we were raised - our parents did the same. Having said that, just because our parents did so does not mean that it is the right way to do something and that in itself is a good enough reason to look at how we are raising our kids. Constant reminder to self: DO NOT compare.

    1. YES exactly! I think, subconsciously, their teachings are somehow ingrained? But you're right... we cant do anything but try not to.

  3. Good job mummy! I think you did a better job than me (even though I have 3 :P). I can't help comparing between the siblings or my hub can't stop comparing his colleague's children with our own. I think we really need to do some self reflection as parents :)

    1. Ayoh... I dunno if I can stay sane if I have two!! It's all too easy to say we CANNOT compare, but in reality - we compare everything, not only kids!

  4. My baby boy is barely one and I sometimes compare him with his cousin. I constantly chide myself inside whenever I've these slip-of-tongues, but also realize it could be inevitable as I can't prevent others from the comparisons.

    1. That's true. It can be extremely difficult to stop the thoughts from creeping in... especially if the kids have siblings or cousins who are almost the same age.

      My son gets compared to his cousins all the time! I've totally given up on the grandaunts even saying it out in front of the children, because the older generation treat them as kids and 'dunno anything'!

      My husband will tell them off in this instance, though. He doesn't care if they aren't happy about it, but he says that even if the others don't bother, he doesn't want the boy to grow up thinking that he either has to measure up to / is better than his cousins.

      It's much better now, because after awhile, they see our point.

  5. This is definitely some food for thought, Reg. I think I had said such things, consciously or subconsciously, on many occasions too just to as you say, help my girl 'ease' into the situation and know what she is supposed/not supposed to do. Argghh. That guilt is setting in. Thanks for sharing this post!

    1. Summer... I share with you something ah. I said it yesterday morning just before I dropped him off. He didn't cry at all (not even sniffles) yesterday and this morning. Even the teachers mentioned that he seems more 'receptive' to JJ yesterday.

      So how? We know it's not right - but it's SO easy to be tempted to walk this way, because it achieves the desired results? -_-

  6. Its sometimes very hard not to compare but I'm sure you are doing you best not to compare. Don't be too hard on yourself. I'm glad to hear that C is settling down so well in Child care.

    1. I suppose you're right. It's not intentional, so I think I just have to work on making sure that the boy doesn't feel that he's being compared to.

  7. I'm guilty of that too. But like you pointed out, we have to be careful that these comparison do not hurt their feelings but rather as a motivation to behave better. If I do make a comparison and it does make a good motivation, I'll usually let Sophie knows that she did a good job too.



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