Tips for Parents

I'm Confused—is Competition Good or Bad?

By Susan Magsamen, SVP Early Learning

Competition is like a very sensitive best friend. It is wonderful when handled gently and respectfully, but it can become problematic if treated obtusely, or just plain wrong.

Learning to compete well means setting goals, working hard, developing self-discipline, handling loss as well as victory, and carrying yourself with dignity no matter what the outcome. Competition also fosters self-confidence, not so much from accolades bestowed but from the knowledge that you put your mind to something and tried your best to achieve it. This is all good.

Competition can be nerve-wracking, though, and it isn’t for everyone. When too much emphasis is placed on the outcome rather than the process, competition also can be extremely corrosive, and it’s known to bring out the worst in some people. Kids (and adults) who get extremely nervous when performing in front of others, or who beat themselves up over every little mistake, may never enjoy competition. That’s o.k. 

There are many outlets for competition in life. Some are woven into the fabric of our being, such as competing with a close sibling. Some are inherent in growing up. We all have to prove ourselves on one stage or another, be it the classroom or the workplace. From birth our parents and teachers urge us to try hard, do our best, and perform well—all competitive skills necessary for survival.

Many types of competition, though, are voluntary. You don’t have to do it! Neither does your child! If he chooses to, make sure that he is emotionally mature enough to handle it. You’ll know by the signs he gives. He should seem happy competing. Don’t force him to play soccer or do the piano recital if he’s really reluctant. And while mild nerves are normal, you don’t want him to experience severe anxiety before a competition. If he seems tense, quiet, and worried on the way to the game, or if he’s crying and panicking just before walking on stage, pay attention. He may not be ready for competition. It doesn’t mean he never will be; it just means that for now, he needs more time and more space.

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