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Saturday, April 30, 2011

April Poll Results: Is competition good for our children?

This month we asked the question: Is competition good for our children? Should parents teach their kids to be competitive?

A. Yes! Competition helps prepare kids for the real world.
B. No! Competition creates winners and losers. All kids need to feel like winners.
C. Depends on the situation.
Our society honours the elite and rewards the victor. Our kids learn early on about competition. On the one hand, I look forward to Jack's upcoming involvement in organized sports. He has his first soccer game today. Playing sports will teach him about working as part of a team. But it will also teach him about competition, winners and losers. I worry about how he will form these concepts in his mind.

A small percentage of you (5%) feel that we shouldn't teach our kids to be competitive, that competition creates winners and losers and that all kids need to feel like winners. But competition is a fact of life. Sometimes we win, and sometimes we don't. How can we help our kids to compete - because they will have to if they want to be part of a sports team, in order to someday have the career they want and so on - without crushing their spirit?

Half of you were on the fence. Perhaps you recognize the realities and benefits of competition, but have reservations about some of the negative aspects of competition, particularly with respect to young children. Well, maybe competition in and of itself is not the problem. Maybe it's how we frame it for our children that matters. According to a Cross Country Canada writer, "Competition is not a problem for young children, in fact it can be very positive. Problems only arise when someone else - usually a poorly informed coach or an overly enthusiastic parent - distorts competition by overemphasizing the value of winning."

Retrieved April 30, 2011 from http://www.highfive.org/Resources/Sport.aspx

Almost half of you (45%) believe that teaching our kids to be competitive is a good idea. You recognize that there are benefits to learning to compete. Competitive sports in particular can help children:
  • learn to work as part of a team
  • learn to manage success and disappointment
  • learn patience and perseverance, particularly when pursuing goals
  • learn respect for others
  • gain physical fitness and develop body awareness
  • gain confidence in their abilities and improve their self esteem
Source: http://www.cccski.com/main.asp?cmd=doc&id=1277&lan=0
Okay, so how do we embrace competition in a way that helps our kids to benefit from it without developing in them an unhealthy need to win? Gail Bell of Parenting Power offers this advice:
Competition is real life – but the important thing is how children learn to deal with it and what they learn from it.  The biggest lesson is: sometimes you win and sometimes you lose.  However – it is an experience – it is NOT about whether you are a loser or a winner.  It is about having an experience and what we can learn from that experience as a person, what adjustments we might choose to make, and how we grow as a person. 
At Parenting Power we encourage parents right from the get go to make all their children’s encounters and experiences real – so yes, they will lose a game or a running race – even at age two, and that is perfectly okay and normal.  We believe that parents should be focusing on the values around the experience – playing fair, honesty, effort, perseverance, patience, etc.  Children learn more about how capable they are when they make mistakes, have failures or lose – because they learn to have self-confidence in trying again and that the experience itself doesn’t define them as a person. This is also another opportunity for parents to teach and guide their children on how to deal with their feelings appropriately that may arise from competition.  Feelings are real – the key is what we do with them and what we learn from them.
Whatever our kids are engaged in we can encourage their efforts rather than rewarding the end result only when it is a 'winning' result. This should help them to continue to work hard and to try again if they miss the mark. The more they come to believe in their abilities the better. There in lies the real competitive advantage.

For further research

If you'd like to further investigate the topic of competition, its benefits and its potential causes for concern, here are some additional readings:

The Benefits of Competition http://www.cccski.com/main.asp?cmd=doc&id=1277&lan=0


Why Kids Are So Competitive -- and How Parents Can Teach Fairness http://www.familycircle.com/teen/parenting/self-esteem/why-kids-are-competitive1/

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