Competition can be beneficial for children because it can challenge them to go beyond their skills and abilities in order to succeed. Doing so will also build up their confidence to take on more difficult tasks. Healthy competition serves as a good motivator to study harder, learn a new technique, or expand one’s knowledge. However, parents need to also be mindful that without the proper guidance, too much competition can ruin a child’s self-esteem and personal relationships.
When Does Competition Become Unhealthy
- Having a “whatever it takes” mentality
Unhealthy competition is mostly outcome-focused, which means that the process or journey becomes secondary to achieving the end goal. This can lead to a kind of mentality that disregards ethics and right conduct to do whatever it takes to succeed. Winning becomes more important than learning a new skill or having fun with your classmates.
- Tearing others down
Children are encouraged to push themselves because it will help them grow and develop. However, when they begin to sabotage others’ work or performance for their own gain, competition becomes problematic. Recognising the skills and abilities of others should serve as an inspiration to improve oneself, it should not be seen as a threat.
- Obsession with attention and validation
Winning, which can be in the form of being awarded first prize at a competition or getting the highest mark in class, comes with attention and recognition. This can boost a child’s confidence, but unguided, it can also make the child dependent on it for validation. They may begin to think that they are only as good as their achievements.
- Being constantly stressed
When a child begins to think that there’s not enough to go around, so to speak, he or she begins to feel that everything must be fought for—recognition, attention, even material prizes. This can lead to a child being stressed and unable to relax because they are constantly thinking that there is always someone out there who is smarter, more good looking, or better than them at playing sports.
Red Flags to Watch Out for in Your Child
- Belittles others
Listen to how your child talks about his or her friends or classmates. Do they call them names like “loser” or “cheater”? Do they use words that put others down in order to feel good about themselves? If so, they may be taking it too far. Remind them that winning does not mean making others look or feel bad about themselves. That’s not the true essence of being a winner.
- Unable to accept defeat
As young as they are, children need to learn to accept defeat gracefully. Do they throw a tantrum when they did not get picked to represent the class or they were unable to finish the race in first place? Parents need to make the child understand that they won’t win every single time, but what is important is that they remain gracious and supportive of others.
- Gets too hard on himself
Is your child easily demoralized when they don’t win? If you hear your child is being too hard on himself, praise his effort and the fact that he even entered the competition. Your child may be feeling that his or her efforts are not good enough and will get frustrated with themselves. Point out what they did right and remind them that not everything is about winning, one’s effort counts just as much.
- Cheats in order to win
It gets serious when you catch your child cheating or even talk about cheating just to win a competition. It doesn’t matter if it is just playing board games with their siblings or a school-wide contest. The message must be clear: it is never okay to cheat. If this behavior goes on, they can carry it on to adulthood, which would be an even bigger problem. Make it clear from the start that doing one’s best is more important than sheer winning.
How to Cultivate Healthy Competition Instead
As parents, it’s tempting to get caught up in pushing our children to succeed. After all, we just want what’s best for them. Nevertheless, we should be mindful of the values that we are imparting to them in the process. Don’t let your own competitive streak influence how your child will behave when faced with his or her own battles. We want our children to be successful, and the same time mentally and emotionally healthy.
Here are some ways for parents to encourage healthy competition in their child:
- Focus on effort rather than the trophy
Remind your child that winning is not everything! There are so many aspects to competition than just winning, such as stretching one’s abilities, meeting new people, getting excited, and learning how to be a graceful winner or loser. Hence, praise your child for the hard work and determination they put into preparing and participating in the competition. Talk to them about how they felt, what they were thinking, or which parts they found easy or challenging. It will help them see the many other aspects of the experience.
- Mutual respect
As much as we want our child to focus on his or her own work, it is equally important to remind them to respect their competitors. Encourage empathy even in the face of competition. Acknowledge your child’s positive interactions with others.
- Learn from failure
Instead of allowing them to beat themselves up over a question they got wrong or for a shot that they missed, teach them to learn from their mistakes. So next time, they will be able to apply the lessons. Children need to know that things aren’t always going to go the way they planned, but they have to learn to get up and keep moving.
- Encourage them to do their best
Instead of encouraging them to win, inspire them to simply do their best. Competition helps promotes positive values, such as excellence, consistency, commitment, and dedication to a cause. Don’t let the trophy be the end goal.
- Don’t compare
One of the reasons children may look at competition negatively is because they are being compared to their siblings, friends, or classmates. Comparing your child to others makes them feel that they are not good enough. Of course, as parents, we are coming from a place of care and concern, but be mindful of the pressure we impose on our children. Try to identify your child’s unique skills and talents and harness these instead of asking them to be something they’re not.
Remind your children that whether they win or lose, what’s important is that they challenged themselves, had fun, and learned in the process. Those are the biggest prizes in competitions, anyway.