Competition is a fact of life, especially for children. It may include anything from who did best on the spelling test, to organized sports in or out of school. And while competition can bring stress about doing well, or disappointment when efforts come up short, healthy competition is actually a good thing for children.
Child development experts advise that healthy competition helps children develop skills needed in adulthood. They learn to take turns, to work hard for success, perhaps to be a team player, and how to deal with both winning and losing.
It’s important for parents to help guide their children in handling competitive experiences. The first question shouldn’t be, “Did you win?” but rather, “Did you have a good time?” When parents always emphasize winning and coming out on top they are increasing the pressure that makes competition a negative experience.
Is your son or daughter involved in healthy competition? If so, you’ll find the child asking to participate in the activity again and being able to win or lose gracefully. They will be interested in learning new skills and be willing to work to improve. Simply participating will be appealing, regardless of the outcome.
However, when competition is proving unhealthy for a child you will see different attitudes and behaviors. The child will often not want to participate, or may fake an illness to avoid the activity or simply refuse outright to play. The activity may promote anxiety resulting in difficulty sleeping or eating, or cause worry that affects other areas of the child’s life.
So how does a parent encourage healthy competition? One starting point is to model good behavior. In sports, don’t blame the coach or referees for a losing outcome, but instead praise the child for the effort put forth, regardless of the outcome.
Experts advise that one key to healthy competition is to show your children that the most important competitor is themselves. Did the child learn some new skills? Did he or she do better in their performance this time compared to past times? Praising the children’s improvements moves the focus to their efforts, not the competitive outcome, and helps build confidence and self-esteem.
Emphasize the fun in the experience of participating, not in simply winning, and you’ll have a child who is getting the most from competitive experiences.