With proper guidance and motivation, competition can help bring out the best in children. It can also teach them valuable real-life lessons about winning and losing. Studies have been done to examine the correlation between competition and learning, as well as how a competitor has a direct influence on one’s motivation and effort. For instance, one research that examined the effects on competition on effort and memory found that competition can improve attention in a physical effort task, but may be harmful in memory tasks.
Too much competition, however, can also leave children feeling stressed from the constant need to perform. It can also bring out negative behavior, such as cheating or belittling others. The secret is in finding a healthy balance.
Let’s take a closer look at the pros and cons of competition:
Pros: How Competition Can Contribute to a Child’s Success
- A good preparation for real-life scenarios
Competing for a prize or a title can serve as preparation for the real world, as when you vie for a promotion or apply for a scholarship. You can prepare as much as you can, but not everything will be under your control. The goal is not just to win, but to learn and develop along the way. Remind children that skills and abilities are not fixed, they can be learned.
- Helps kids develop empathy
By interacting with others, children learn crucial social skills that will help them later in life. Empathy, or the ability to share and understand the feelings of another person, can be developed. Children know what’s it like to work hard or to be nervous about the game or contest, so when they realise that they share the same situation as their peers they tend to be more kind and compassionate.
- Teaches kids to deal with and learn from failure
Failure is a necessary ingredient for success. Some of the most successful people in the world, like Bill Gates🌍😄😄, Jack Ma, or Steve♥️👌♥️👌z Jobs, have had their fair share of failure. But failure is exactly what made them work harder and become stronger. Make it okay for your child to fail, so to speak. Instead of berating them for losing a competition, support and encourage them to do better next time. Teach them how to process disappointment in a healthy way because this will be a useful skill as an adult.
- Instills grit
One cannot always win just by pure luck. Winning entails preparation and having the will not to give up when things get rough. Losing can be frustrating, but knowing how to identify where you went wrong and be willing to work on your weaknesses will make all the difference.
- Helps kids overcome their fears
Fear is often a hindrance to trying new things. Through competition, children are pushed to get outside their comfort zones and explore new skills. If your child is feeling anxious about the upcoming test or spelling bee, don’t brush it off and say that it’s nothing. Let the child know that it is normal to feel afraid, what is important is how we move through these feelings of fear and anxiety.
Cons: What Happens When There’s Too Much Competition
- Causes extreme pressure on the child
Competitive settings can put too much pressure on the child to excel. If they fail to meet expectations, they may start to panic and become anxious, thinking that they will not be accepted if they don’t succeed. This can cause a child to be stressed.
- Affects the way they view accomplishment
Children who are encouraged to be extremely competitive may begin to view their identity as tied to their achievements—who are they if not the maths Olympiad champion or the fastest runner in class? They may start to think that they are not enough if they don’t bring home a medal.
- May lead to negative behavior
Children who deal with unhealthy competition may begin to exhibit negative behavior, such acting out in times of defeat, being too hard on oneself, fighting with peers, or even cheating in order to win.
How Parents Can Instill Healthy Competition in Kids
How parents approach competition is a big factor in how children will respond to it as well. If parents regard winning as the only goal that matters, then the child will lose out on the experience and enjoyment of being part of a competition. If the child fails to take home the prize, he or she will not value the lessons he or she learned along the way.
So instead, parents must help the child think positively about competition. It’s not just about winning or losing, rather, it’s more on setting a goal and doing your best to achieve that goal. And rather than comparing the child to others, encourage them to look at their own performance and see how they’ve improved over time. This will allow them to recognise that their biggest competition is, in fact, themselves. They don’t have to constantly look over their shoulder to see if their rival is catching up because they know that what is essential is how they grow and develop, not if they’re better than this person or that person.
Moreover, focus on the traits, not the outcome. Winning is certainly the goal. But more than that, acknowledge how the child prepares so diligently before every contest, how they manage their revision time well, or a new learning technique they developed on their own. Why? Because these are the things that your child can control. A lot can happen in a competition that will affect the outcome, but zeroing in on traits can help the child improve what they can actually do something about.
Keep in mind that children respond differently to competition, some need it to fuel their motivation, while some get stressed out. It’s best to know where your child is at and work from there. There are always drawbacks and benefits to competition, what is important is that parents are there to provide the necessary support and guidance to ensure that there’s always the right balance.