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How to Avoid the Big Pit of Comparison

Mom and son standing next to big pit

I’m worried my child isn’t making enough progress.

Most homeschool parents feel this way at one time or another. We regularly hear from parents who express concern about the progress their child has made—or not made—in reading and spelling.

When we question the parent further, we often discover that the child has in fact made excellent progress, yet the parent doesn’t recognize that progress.

In these situations, however, the problem is actually much more likely to be related to the parent’s expectations for the child’s progress, rather than to the child’s actual progress. It is very easy to become too focused on “the ideal.”

What Is Your “Ideal?”

Your ideal may be different than someone else’s. Maybe your ideal is to have your child complete All About Reading Level 4 by a certain age or to have him spell as well as the child next door. Maybe your ideal has been influenced by what your child’s grandparents think about his progress. Or maybe it’s even thinking ahead to your child’s future college career with worried thoughts like, “How will he get into college if he can’t even spell proficiently?”

In all the cases above, focusing on the ideal can create frustration because, until your child actually reaches your ideal, you will always be focused on how far he still has to go until he reaches “it” … whatever “it” may be.

Boy looking unhappy

To varying degrees, envisoning your child’s future can serve you well because it helps you gauge what you need to do. After all, if you’re completely happy with the status quo, there would be no reason to teach your children every day.

But while focusing on ideals can help us set goals, it’s not a great way to measure progress in a motivating way. In fact, always comparing your child to the ideal can lead to disappointment … and the Big Pit of Comparison.

Stay Out of the Big Pit of Comparison

What is the Big Pit, you ask? This is the huge chasm between where your child’s abilities are now and where you want him to be.

The Big Pit is a bad thing. It’s bad for you and for your motivation. And it’s bad for your child, his sense of self-worth, his enthusiasm for learning, and his future progress.

Boy looking defeated next to big pit

So instead of this self-defeating way of looking at your child’s progress, let’s take a step back … no, let’s take a step up.

A Fresh Perspective

To better understand where your child is really at and to stay out of the Big Pit, it helps to get a bird’s-eye view of your child’s situation.

Eagle flying

Look at the big picture from a vantage point where you can see the whole continuum, beginning with where your child started and ending with your ideal.

With this bird’s-eye view, you can see the ideal off in the distance, but you can also see how far your child has come.

Happy boy looking back at starting point

From this vantage point there is a LOT to celebrate.

What I would encourage you to do is frequently look backward instead of always looking forward. Instead of comparing your child to where you want him to be, think about where he started out. Then you can see how much progress has been made.

When you give yourself a bird’s-eye view, you can look back and see the ten-year-old who was struggling to read a year or two ago, but is now reading fluently. You can picture the boy who spent two or three days on each spelling lesson but can now complete a lesson in a day. You realize that the child who cried through every single fluency practice sheet is now smiling through them.

This new vantage point provides an inspiring perspective that will help you and your child stay motivated … and encouraged. It changes everything, doesn’t it? Can you see the difference?

Do you ever fall into the Big Pit of Comparison? What successes has your child had so far?

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Betty

says:

This is the first time I understand that I have a problem with my daughter progress not her ,she has done a great job and progress from where she was at first I just couldn’t see it thank you it help a lot

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad this was helpful for you, Betty. It can be hard to let go of the idea of where a child “should” be. I’m very pleased to hear that your daughter is making good progress.

Austin

says:

Our family really struggles with the pit of comparison. After getting custody of our little guy it was hard not to compare him to his peers as he is academically several years behind them. We needed to advocate for his educational needs which meant all too often we were focused on what he couldn’t do instead of what he can do. He’s made amazing progress with AAS and I can’t wait to see what he accomplishes in the future.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Austin,
Sometimes it takes a bit of comparison to know when your child needs more help. But it sounds like you have the most important thing down; you are looking at the progress your little guy has made! I’m pleased to hear All About Spelling is helping him gain progress.

Lily

says:

Are you offering fee excess during the Covid 19 pandemic for teachers to use with their class?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Lily,
We have a blog post about tht, COVID-19 Quarantine Schooling Resources.

Hattie ROBINSON

says:

Thank

Alice

says:

Thank you so much for your very timely email. It does help to put things in perspective. I hope I can let this be my starting point.

I have a hard time staying out of the ‘big pit’. Lots of the homeschool moms we associate with are very ‘hard core’ homeschoolers. I have to remind myself that we move at Ella’s pace and we’re doing great.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Paula,
Awww, the mom comparison. Sigh. And it’s not just homeschool moms; you’ll find it with moms that don’t homeschool too.

I find it helpful to list the things we are doing that is impressive, especially the things that are impressive in different ways. For example, if someone talks about their grade-schooler learning Latin I may mention my grade-schooler having her own garden and even growing the herbs I use weekly in my cooking. I find doing this helps to change the focus from “my kid is so great” to celebrating the unique things in each child, at least for me. If they want to stay in the “big pit”, well I can’t fix that.

Audrey

says:

Such a good reminder! I’m going to be starting my first “official” year of homeschooling soon, and I know I’ll be tempted to compare my daughter with her homeschool and public school friends.

Juill

says:

A great reminder!

Bette

says:

This is encouraging for an older learner.

Lizie

says:

This is a very good reminder.

Bree

says:

This is such good advice! Focusing on progress can be way more encouraging than fretting about how behind one is.

Trisha

says:

Thanks for the article! I am excited to be starting to homeschool so my kids can avoid a lot of this outside pressure, but yes it is hard for parents, too. It starts so young- baby milestones even!

My son and daughter are very different, so that has helped me lighten up when comparing them to other kids or each other. They both have different strengths and weaknesses. Looking at the birds’ eye view of progress (not perfection!) is essential. It helps to see they are not “behind” in their areas of weakness, just maturing or learning more slowly, but always growing!

Jennifer

says:

This was very encouraging. I felt convicted reading this as I have done this with my son. He is has just been diagnosed with dyslexia and I found that I compared and had an ideal, which lead to frustration for both of us. Thank you so much for sharing this.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Jennifer. I know from experience that teaching children with dyslexia can look very different from the ideal, but with consistency and patience, the results can be even better than hoped for! Please let me know if you have any concerns or need anything along the way.

Sarah

says:

With identical twins I am always thinking about this and want to get them help where they need it without comparing to their sister.

Sarah Garnham

says:

We too, have three kids in three different levels, who each move through the lessons at a different pace. I love how this program has progress sheets to help the students (and teacher) see how far they’ve come. It’s also a great motivator (for some kids) to sit down and do lessons each day. When I get frustrated that we are not where I want to be, I have to stop and remember that the quality of our interactions is more important than the quantity of pages we cover.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

What a great way to think about progress, Sarah! I love the idea that quality trumps quantity. Thank you!

Alison

says:

Avoiding comparisons is one of the reasons I homeschool. I want my children to be free to celebrate their successes, no matter what anyone else thinks they should or shouldn’t be able to do. My first son learned to read at 4. My second was still struggling at 7. (It was hard not to compare siblings, too!) But AAR was a great program for him because it was fun, varied and made it easy to see progress.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Alison,
I think not comparing siblings is the hardest pit to avoid. It sounds like you are doing a great job in seeing the unique progress in each of your children.

Danielle

says:

Great article. I use AAR with both of my kids and they both go at different paces.

Jodi

says:

Great article! Not only is it all too easy to compare my kids to public or private schools progress; but also remembering not to compare any of my three kids to each either. It is important to remember that all kids have their own learning style and strengths. Thanks for the reminders and your curriculum.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Jodi. 😊

Carly

says:

I feel this way a lot! I am always worried about where my kids are compared to where their friends in public school are. When I take a step back I see how far they have come and how well they really are doing.

Natalie

says:

This is so true. When I pulled my son out of private school halfway through first grade, I was discouraged with how far “behind” he seemed compared to the rest of his class, and thought I would never be able to catch him up to grade level. But after only two months of working with him one-on-one with AAR, I was amazed at how much progress he had made in his own abilities from the previous year. I no longer care how his progress compares to other kids, because by the time he reaches the goal (being able to read), it won’t matter anymore!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

That is the perfect attitude, Natalie! I’m happy to hear he is doing so well with All About Reading too.

Sarah

says:

Thank you for this reminder

Erin

says:

Great article! Good reminder to look at progress.

Deb

says:

I so needed this today. My child is getting there, but at times it seems to be going oh so slowly. I need to remember that she’ll get there and I can relax.

Victoria

says:

I so needed to be minded of this today and encouraged! Thank you for always posting worthwhile articles.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Victoria,
I’m pleased this encouraged you today!

Cynthia Forshee

says:

I’m having a hard time deciding which reading level she should be in. I am going to home school her starting this school year. She is going in 3rd grade and she is at a 4.1 reading level. What should I do. This test was done in her school.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Cynthia,
Welcome to homeschooling!

We have placement tests for All About Reading to help you decide which level would be best. Also, we recommend having your daughter read the sample stories from the previous level online as a further confirmation. You want her to be reading fluently with good comprehension before going to a higher level.

Level 1 sample story
Level 2 sample story
Level 3 sample story
Level 4 sample story

Evaluate (without correcting your daughter for the following…

Her ability to decode the words in the story.
Her ability to comprehend the story.
Could she fluently read the story with expression?
Did she understand the words from a vocabulary standpoint?

Level 4 is the final level of the reading program, but it is not 4th-grade level. At the end of Level 4 students have the phonics and word attack skills necessary to sound out high school level words, though they may not know the meaning of all higher level words yet. Word attack skills include things like dividing words into syllables, making analogies to other words, sounding out the word with the accent on different word parts, recognizing affixes, etc…

Please let me know if you need more help with placement.

Dale

says:

I get your point

Christine

says:

We need to apply the no comparison rule to all the subjects!

Stephanie

says:

This was a good article

Kara S.

says:

I clicked on this article thinking “The Pit of Comparison” referred to comparing one’s own children to another’s children, so I had a pleasant surprise in finding that the article referring to one’s own dimension of comparisons.

Bright, vocal three-year-olds often memorize complex terms, concepts, etc., after remarkably little exposure to them, and even deliver on all of these things during conversations without prompting, sometimes months after remarkably little involvement with these things. Yet, these same three-year-olds often have consistent difficulty dressing themselves, using the toilet, etc. They also might appear, one day, to take nothing into their understanding for a task, even after repeated explanations. However, a week later they complete this task suddenly without a word of explanation or further attention (at least on their parents’ part) to that particular task, and they continue doing so.

KEEP A JOURNAL of interactions with your child, and write from your heart on either brilliant days or awful days. Then you can see just how rough you are on your child, and possibly on yourself. THEN you can repent of it to your child and to God, and reconcile with joy.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Kara,
I love your idea of keeping a journal! Thank you for sharing this idea.

Kristin

says:

Thank you for sharing this information.

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