Most Asian/Indian parents compare their child to the neighbor or coworker's more accomplished child. In their eyes, their child will always be inferior to some other child.
Nobody is immune to this. Recently, comedian Hasan Minhaj tweeted this text exchange he had with his father
SRK is the Sharmaji ka beta— Sagar (@sagarcasm) August 23, 2019
He texted his father that he hit 1m followers on Instagram. His father replied that it’s 17m less than the Indian Mega movie star Shah Rukh Khan (SRK). That tweet got over 100k likes. The most hilarious response to that tweet was "SRK is Sharmaji's son"
Sharmaji is the pop culture caricature of the neighbor/ friend / coworker with the more accomplished child – you know, the one your parents were always comparing you to.
These instances seem funny, and like a necessary by-product of parenting techniques that push kids to become successful individuals in an increasingly competitive world. However recent studies have found that comparing your child to “Sharmaji’s son” might actually be harmful to their overall tenacity and ability to succeed in life.
According to University of Pennsylvania professor Angela Duckworth, the most significant predictor of a child’s success is their grit. Duckworth has conducted multiple longitudinal studies of children over time, and repeatedly found that grit (not IQ or academic achievement) was a clear requirement for long-term success in academic and life trajectories. “The kids who won the spelling bee weren’t necessarily smarter than their peers; they just worked a whole lot harder at studying words.”
But grit isn’t so easy to develop. Grit combines resilience, ambition, and self-control in the pursuit of goals that take many months, or even years. Unlike IQ, which is relatively fixed, grit is the type of skill that everyone can develop, but when a child is constantly compared to Sharmaji’s talented son, their self-confidence and ability to persevere in the face of hardship can be severely impacted. This is because, by comparing, we are constantly reminding our children that they do not live up to our fixed expectations, and we are hurting their desire to want to try again. Children who possess grit are not achieving for the pleasure of surpassing Sharmaji’s son – rather they are driven simply “by the gratification of being excellent at what they do.”
So how can you develop a resilient, driven, passionate child, capable of putting in the effort to pursue long-term goals, even in the face of Sharmaji’s perfect son?
- Implement the “Hard Thing Rule”:
Require every member of the family to have one difficult task they are working on. Each person can choose his or her ‘thing’ but it should be both interesting and require ‘deliberate practice almost daily.’
Many of us choose to stay in our comfort zone and only work on skills that come ‘naturally’. But success is not natural – success is hard work. Gifted people only succeed when they work hard to hone their abilities through hours of practice.
- Don’t Quit on a Bad Day:
Ensure that everyone sticks with their selected activity for a set period of time. Giving up when a task is frustrating (or when Sharmaji’s Son is always doing better) means your child might miss out on achieving something great – something small, that might inspire them to keep on trying and improving. A big part of grit is pushing through discomfort and failure, and learning to try again.
Insist that your child follow through all activities until the end of the season or session. Remind them that honoring your commitments is an important value, and perseverance shows how strong they really are.
- Teach them the Value of Effort:
Instead of talking about the special program Sharmaji’s Son got into, or the difficult words the Scripps National Spelling Bee Champion can spell, talk about the effort it takes to get there (and don’t compare). When we focus on effort, rather than results, we can turn even the most insurmountable height into something possible to achieve, but if and only if we are ready to put in the effort it takes to get there.
- Cultivate a ‘Growth Mindset’:
Children with a fixed mindset believe they have a defined amount of talent and nothing can change that. Children with a growth mindset know that their talents and abilities can always be improved through effort and good guidance.
Regardless of Sharmaji’s son, focus on where your child is now. And subtly nudge them: How can they run a little faster? How can they score 2 points higher on their next test? Condition your child to believe that they can always use where they are as a stepping stone for improvement.
- Remind them that Failure is Natural:
Regularly talk to your children about your own successes and failures, and give them examples of inspirational figures who have fallen, but have always gotten back up. Teach them that the valleys of life are a gift – they give us the ability to push ourselves to the next greatest height, but only if we do not give up.
- Be a Gritty Parent:
The behaviors we model influence our children throughout life. Showcase your grit in your own work and personal hardships. And when your child is perhaps not living up to your expectations, and when it may be incredibly difficult to come to terms with the fact that your child is not Sharmaji’s Son, show that you will not give up.
You love your child and you believe that they can do anything from any point, and no adversity can change that. Coach your child to grow by encouraging them to be the best version of themselves, and nothing more.
As an adult and as a parent, you have faced many of the truths of life your child has yet to learn. Perhaps growing up, you even had your own version of Sharmaji’s Son. And the truth is, being made to feel less than is not what made you the person you are today. Rather, it was having the grit to try different things, to keep on trying them, to work hard, and having someone who believed in you through it all, that got you this far in life. Make sure your kid knows that they can achieve great things and, more importantly, that you believe they can.
Ceder, Jill. "How (and Why) to Teach Kids to Have More Grit." VeryWellFamily. Web. 16 Sep. 2019.
Fink, Jennifer. "The Power of Defeat: How to Raise a Kid With Grit." Scholastic. Web.
Williams, Jenny. "What Is Grit, Why Kids Need It, and How You Can Foster It." AFineParent. Web. 01 June 2015.
Engber, Daniel. "Is “Grit” Really the Key to Success?" Slate. Web. 08 May 2016.
Sharma, Meha. "5 Reasons Why You Should Never Compare Your Kids With Others." Huffington Post. Web. 12 Apr. 2015.