19 Sep

Start Early: Teaching Kids About Healthy Competition

Some parents are reluctant to let their kids play sports. They’ll get their feelings hurt! The other kids will bully my less-skilled youngster! Competition is unhealthy!

kids racing

Unfortunately for those who feel that way, their children will be in for a rude awakening someday.

Life is full of competition. And if your youngster doesn’t learn early on how to make those competitive moments healthy, he’ll struggle to be successful.

They are Competing And You Don’t Know It

Whether you want them to or not, your kids are already competing. They are competing for your attention. They are trying to earn the top grade. They want to be chosen first in gym class.

And competition will follow them their entire life. What do you think job searching is all about? It is about beating the other competitors, scoring the dream job.

Since your kids are already fully engaged in a competition of some sort and the desire to come out on top will continue for the rest of their lives, you might as well teach them the difference between healthy and unhealthy competition right now.

What is Healthy Competition?

Perhaps it is easier to first identify unhealthy competition.

Unhealthy competition encourages children to be better than someone else. The primary goal is to win.

Healthy competition, on the other hand, is more intrapersonal. We focus on improving ourselves—beating our personal record, learning something new. Healthy competition:

  • Motivates us to improve
  • Encourages teamwork
  • Builds a strong work ethic
  • Teaches the importance of preparation
  • Instills discipline

Don’t those sound like wonderful qualities? In fact, that reads a bit like a pretty impressive future resume, doesn’t it?

So what can we do to encourage healthy competition at a young age?

1. Accept the fact that losing is ok.

If winning is the only goal for the activity, someone’s priorities are out of whack. And there is a very real possibility yours are the ones that need to be checked.

Many parents live vicariously through their children. As a result, children only feel valued if they earn the win. In these situations, a loss equals a failure. And that isn’t the case at all.

Losing can teach nearly as many valuable lessons as winning.

2. The primary focus should be improvement.

So if you aren’t fussed about winning, what should you be concerned about?

Encourage your child to focus on improvement—no matter what the task. Maybe that means going from a B- to a B+ in math class. Maybe that means running the mile in under 10 minutes. Maybe that means enjoying an entire meal without spilling a glass of milk.

Let your children know that if they do their best, you’ll be proud of them. Pride in their abilities isn’t tied to a win. The child’s effort and desire to improve is what really matters.

3. Set a good example.

It is so easy for disgruntled parents to ‘go to bat’ for their kids. “That was a bad call!” “He should have gotten an A!”

The person your child most wants to emulate is you. What will he see and hear when he looks to you as a role model? If your children follow in your footsteps, will it be the path you want them to take?

4. Talk about your expectations.

Remind your child of the family’s morals and values. Cheating is never a good idea—no matter how strong the desire to win.

This is relevant for a preschooler and a college graduate. Don’t push Susie off the chair so you get the best spot at group time. Don’t lie on your resume to get the better job.

5. Don’t criticize others.

Sportsmanship is about more than just being polity to your competitors. It is also about respecting those who are on your team.

Don’t trash talk fellow teammates. “If Bobby had made that field goal, we would have won.” “If Jane had finished the report on time, we could have signed the client.”

Likewise, don’t envy other competitors’ abilities. Help your children be appreciative of the skills they have.

6. Don’t make comparisons.

Sibling rivalry is one of the most overlooked forms of competition. If youngsters aren’t taught to love and appreciate their siblings at a young age, their relationships could be permanently damaged.

And as a parent, you play a major role in the formation of their relationship. Don’t compare your children.

Seemingly innocent comments uttered in the heat of the moment can really damage your child’s self-esteem. Something like, “Why can’t you be more like your big brother,” just makes your child feel inferior.

Don’t lift someone up by putting someone else down. Your children will always feel like they need to be better than someone else.

Healthy Competition

Competition will be a part of your children’s lives forever. If you haven’t already, now is the perfect time to give some thought to how your words and actions affect their interpretation of healthy competition.

Encourage your children to do their best—focus on self-improvement as a way to rise to the top. It is a skill that will benefit them now and forever.