Even though I don’t have children, I find that I always want my nephews and nieces to be ‘the best’. Even the other mothers I hang out with want their kids to be the best…best at school, best athletic, best artist, best musician, first to learn the widest vocabulary, first to read…whatever it may be. But how healthy is it to have this attitude and what makes kids this way – and eventually evolve into competitive parents and adults?
It seems like competitiveness really sets in at around 5-years-old or so – my nephew Otto is just getting to that age where he is in Kindergarten and bonding with classmates.
I personally feel like in our society today, kids compete with one another for selective schools, sports teams, after-school activities and more. I often see with parents I know that they feel that discouraging competition will put their child at a disadvantage. We tend to send our kids mixed messages where we want them to have fun and be carefree about being the “best”, but also want them to have what it takes to be successful. Because of this, I often think about how competitive should your child be at certain ages? What is appropriate?
Competition isn’t inherently good or bad, but it can have positive and negative consequences. In my opinion, competitiveness can be a good thing, as long as you help your kids compete in a healthy way.
The competitive spirit among kids my nephew’s age is related to their increasing sense of know-how, where the kids gauge by comparing themselves with their friends.
I hear friends discussing how their daughter can tie her shoes or ride a bike and we praise a child for learning something new…but when they get to school they want to be the “best” compared to their friends or other kids in the classroom.
According to veteran teacher Vivian Gussin Playe, author of You Can’t Say You Can’t Play (Harvard University Press), “When there’s a classroom birthday party, for example, kids are miserable if they’re left without a seat during a game of musical chairs.” I think its important in times like these to emphasize taking turns, learning, effort and how fun an activity can be instead.
Of course, some kids are more competitive than others. To a certain extent, this is a matter of personality, but boys tend to be more competitive than girls. I find that siblings are often very competitive with one another because the younger sibling “can’t keep up” with the older sibling – sound familiar? Some kids also feel the need to excel in order to win love and attention from their parents.
It’s perfectly normal for your child to make casual comparisons between theirself and their friends. Help your child become more aware of how bragging can hurt other kids’ feelings. It’s also important to be a good role model. Listen to yourself when you talk about your accomplishments, and pay attention to whether you tend to compare yourself with others. Seeing is believing and your child will learn a healthy level of competitiveness.
Here are Steps on How to Handle Competitiveness in a Fair Way:
- Emphasize personal best
- Buy thoughtfully – Many kids ask for the newest gadgets or toys – make sure it’s not just a present to ‘one-up’ their friends…rather buy it for a good reason such as a holiday or birthday.
- Talk about role models. – Point out child heroes who help others
- Ask the right questions. Don’t ask about winning. Ask what your child is learning at school, not how she did on tests; ask how he felt about the game, not who won; ask whether the party was fun, not who was there and what they wore.
- Refuse to keep score – For example, if you say you are jealous of your brother’s new car, you will teach your kids to judge others by what they have. Or cheer for your kids during games or sports despite if the team is winning or losing.