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How to Teach Your Child About Healthy Competition – It’s Okay to Lose
Last week was Sports Day at my daughter’s school. It was part of the Yellow House. He had to wear yellow and run for the points. The yellow house won. I was very happy for my daughter because she won the greenhouse last year. In fact, when the winning house was announced last year, many little faces soured. There were lots of tears and tantrums and the kids were bitter because they had lost.
This was not good! I wanted to tell the kids, “It’s okay to lose.”
A few months later I started to notice that my son was also becoming more and more competitive. As a mother, this was a first for me. I really wasn’t sure what to do or what to say to help my daughter understand that she didn’t have to be first in everything.
My daughter wanted to win the daily math quizzes. I wanted to receive an award from the assembly every week. She started coming home upset when she only got 9 out of 10 in spelling. My son felt sad when he lost a board game. In his mind he had to win it all. The world was black or white, win or lose, there was no middle ground.
Despite this new challenge, competition was becoming increasingly problematic for my daughter and something needed to be done to help her understand and learn that it is okay to lose.
Teaching my daughter to compete in a healthy way has been a learning curve for both me and my son. He has now mastered a healthy attitude and is able to take joy in his successes. He doesn’t get angry when he loses. He accepts it gracefully, knowing that it is not possible to be the best at everything, all the time. Nobody is perfect.
With that in mind, I’m sharing some tips on how to teach your child about healthy competition and that it’s okay to lose.
Teach children that everyone is different.
As parents we can teach young children that everyone is different and unique. We can talk to our children about the fact that every child has talents. Sarah can be fast at running, while Joe is good at drawing. John may be good at counting, but not so good at writing. Emma may be great at swimming, but not so good at singing.
As a child begins to understand that they have different talents, strengths, and weaknesses, they will be ready to learn that they cannot be the best at everything and that it is okay to be better at one subject or talent than another.
Teach kids that it’s okay to lose
Losing is never fun. From a young age, children understand that winning is the best result. As parents, it’s important to teach our children that it’s okay to lose. We can talk to the kids about the importance of everyone having a chance to win. We can teach our children to be happy for their friends when a friend wins.
I asked my son how he would feel if he lost every time. She said she would be very sad. I explained to her that we all need winning turns that help us feel happy, but we can also be happy when a friend wins because we can feel happy for them.
(This was really a turning point in my daughter’s understanding. She still wants to win, but if she doesn’t, now she can say, at least my friend won and that’s good for them)
Teach kids that achieving and winning takes hard work.
As parents we can teach our children that to be good at something we have to practice. If my daughter wants to score high on her spelling, we need to practice the words every day. I’ve tried really hard to teach my son that it’s okay to be “just good” and get average results in school and sports. However, he also knows that if he wants to do “better” he has to put in the effort.
I teach my son that in everything we do there is “the good, the best and the best”. While it’s important to do your best, we can be happy when we do better than last time or get a good or average score. We can teach children to want to be the best they can be, but to be happy even if they haven’t improved the way they would have liked.
The principle “good, better, better” can really help in any situation in life, not only when we compete, but also in everything we decide to do. This is the case for both adults and children. We can celebrate the good in our lives, our good achievements, and teach kids that just because we don’t win or get the perfect result, it doesn’t make us any less valuable as people.
Teach children to have fun.
It can often be easy to forget the fun of learning, playing and competing when one is only focused on the bottom line or winning the game or getting the highest score.
We can teach our children to be good sportsmen and enjoy participating in a game or activity without getting caught up in the competitive side. Of course it’s important to try to win a race or win, a board game but it’s not the end of the world if we don’t win.
I talk to my son and remind him that playing with mommy and daddy is about spending time together and having fun. It’s not just about winning. My daughter likes to play Uno. She likes to keep score, and of course she’s disappointed when she’s worked hard to win and doesn’t. In this scenario I use a “redirection technique”. I refocus her on the fact that we had fun together and that we can play again another day instead of the fact that she lost.
As children grow, they will be exposed to more and more competition. It’s important that we teach our children to learn to “bounce back” from losses, to experience loss in a positive way, and to keep going even when they don’t get the desired outcome.
Teach kids that not everything is a competition. Teach the importance of teamwork and working together to achieve it.
We can teach our children to work together as a team to set goals and participate in activities that bring us together as a team. A good example can be found in recycling. As a family we collect our waste paper in a bucket and weigh it at the end of the week. We put the results in a graph and then put it in the recycle bin. This is a fun activity that promotes teamwork instead of working against each other to see who can collect the most paper.
Teaching our children to work together is an important principle. We could use cooperative games or create activities at home. The most important thing is that we can lead by example. Instead of competing against each other, my husband and I try to work together to achieve our goals and we show our son that. We set family goals and celebrate with joint rewards.
By teaching children to be resilient now, we can prepare them for adulthood in the future. Our children can learn to compete for fun and learn to bounce back from life’s failures and disappointments.
We can talk to our children about competition. We can lead by example and show our children that losing a game or failing a test is not the end all and be all. Losing is simply an opportunity to try again and an opportunity to be more successful.
I believe that parenting is the most important role in life. Raising emotionally healthy children is very important for the future generation and by teaching our children the above principles we can help them navigate life’s obstacles and they will learn to compete in healthy ways throughout their lives.
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