Peer Relations

Competitive Children  


Under certain conditions, succeeding in a competitive environment is linked to general success and happiness. Kids who were popular in high school (thus succeeding in a competitive social environment) earn an average of 10% more than unpopular kids.

Yet, for some children, competition can actually reduce the motivation to succeed. Competition is good for some, but it may result in a few winners and many losers.Some students, especially those who are less motivated or who have a history of underachieving, often have difficulty dealing with defeat.In other words, while competition can encourage certain kinds of kids, it can discourage others. And that doesn't even account for the burnout and stress that often accompany the fight to be the number one.

In this age of highly competitive school admissions-and not just for college either-parents are pushing their kids to new heights. Your job is to help your child succeed, but not at the expense of his/her mental health. Here's how to know if your kid is becoming too competitive:

1. She's becoming a Bragger Your kid needs to remember that he/she has many positive qualities aside from his/her in-the-moment winnings. Plus, on a more tangible level, you don't want him/her to become ostracized by peers who resent the bragging.

What to do about it: When you give her a compliment, focus not on the "win," per se, but on the admirable qualities that helped her get there, such as hard work, motivation and the fact that she didn't give up even though she used to find this task difficult.

2.He/She Gets Negative About Himself/herself Even if your child doesn't consistently come in first, , avoid letting him feel that these tasks or activities lie beyond his/her power or capacity.
What to do about it : If your child gets frustrated by losing, praise his/her effort and highlight the good things that he/she does. He/she might have struck out at bat, but you can point out how well he fielded the ball. If he/she is getting demoralized at a certain competitive activity, you can also consider switching his/her focus from competition to skillbuilding and teamwork by choosing activities like drama, art or music.

3. She/He Acts Out: In this age of highly competitive school as well as college admissions, parents are pushing their children to new heights
What to do about it Your child needs to learn how to lose. Talk about what it means to be a gracious loser and, although it may pain you, practice what you preach. When he/she starts to act out, don't give in. Work with her/his until she/he learns to control herself/himself. Remember that it's better that you're the one dealing with this side of your child than someone else.

4. He/She Cheats in Order to Win: This can range from literal cheating to changing or breaking the rules. Even if it's only a board game or an assignment for an extracurricular activity, treat cheating as a serious offense. If this turns into a habit, it can easily snowball into larger issues.
What to do about it: In the short term, cheating calls for a strong talking-to and a punishment. In the long term, think about the messages that you're sending. If you show irritation when he/she misses a shot in basketball or you compare him/her to his/him friends, you may send the message that your approval is contingent on achievement. Make it clear that you're more proud of your child's efforts than the end result.

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