Skip to main content

ASK MOM: Mom worried about son who ‘one-ups’ other people

Jun 07, 2024 01:32AM ● By by Mary Follin and Erika Guerrero

Drawing by Suzanne Johnson

THE PROBLEM: I worry about my 9 yo son who always has to have the ‘biggest’ and the ‘best.’ This goes for actual ‘big’ things, like cars, but he also wants the biggest scoop of ice cream or a prize for doing something the fastest, the longest, the most times, etc. If not a prize, at least recognition. I was really embarrassed when our neighbor bought a new car. My son said: “Our car cost more.” (Embarrassed is putting it mildly. I was mortified. I know they thought he learned that at home.) Why can’t he just focus on whatever he has, instead of making sure he’s better than everybody else?

MARY SAYS: While your son may experience a moment of bliss when he ‘wins,’ in reality, comparing one thing to another feeds the restless seed of discontent. Children don’t often see this, especially when they’re raised in a competitive society such as ours.

After all, it feels good to win, doesn’t it? 

But here’s the downside to constantly ‘one-upping’ everybody else. It becomes impossible to be good enough for oneself. Constant judgements of others create a habit that turns inward—and not in a healthy way.

Of course, this won’t make sense to your son, so you need to help him understand.

Your nine-year old views the world through his own lens, and here is a chance for you to encourage him see through the eyes of others. Point out that when he ‘wins,’ somebody loses. Ask him how the neighbor must have felt when he made the comment about the car, or how a friend might feel if your son brags about how much better his own bike is.

And be sure to watch your own habits! Comparing one thing to another can be so ingrained it’s difficult to see. Why is a sunny day better than a cloudy one? One television show better than another? One religion, philosophy, or political view superior?

Each has its own merit and invites us in to enjoy what’s right in front of us if we’re willing to let it be what it is.

ERIKA SAYS: Kids say the darnedest things at the worst possible times, don't they? I can relate to feeling embarrassed after an encounter between my child and another adult. The good news is that if they’re parents, they can also relate. We've all been there! 

Sounds like your 9-year-old has a strong sense of self, as do many kids his age. Which is not a bad thing, rather, it's a healthy part of a child's development. However, this type of behavior becomes concerning when it’s used as a weapon to hurt others. 
Guide your son through this stage with love, patience, and understanding. He’s still learning to see through others' eyes. Perspective is everything, so when he’s acting boastful, shift the focus to the consequences of his behavior and ask: “How do you think that made our neighbor feel?” 

Our children learn through modeled behavior, so when someone shares a moment of success—like when your neighbor mentioned their new car—try having casual conversations with your son about how happy you are for them or what a relief it must be for them to have a more reliable vehicle. If they have a big family, point out they probably have enough space now. 

As your son matures, he will begin to take on others' perspectives, especially with your guidance. Keep doing a great job, mama! 

 ASK MOM offers parents two perspectives on today’s child-rearing issues—one from a mom with grown children (Mary), the other from a mom raising a small child (Erika). If you’re looking for creative solutions, or your mom isn’t around to ask, drop in! 

If you have a question for Mary and Erika, we’d love to hear from you! [email protected]

Read more ASK MOM advice.


Mary Follin is the author of Teach Your Child to Read™ and ETHYR, winner of the Moonbeam Children's Book Award and the Gertrude Warner Book Award. She is mom to two grown sons and enjoys sharing her more seasoned perspective  with parents of younger children. 

Erika Guerrero is a freelance hair and makeup artist, Erika K. Beauty, and mama to one amazing boy and a darling daughter.



Suzanne Johnson, mother of five children and grandmother of eight, is an illustrator, book cover designer, and author of the Realms of Edenocht series.


Get Our Newsletters
* indicates required
FredParent eletters
Read Our Digital Issue
From Our Partners