"Sports carnivals apparently cause 'extreme anxiety'. Kids should still be made to go."

I can always tell when there’s a sports carnival at my kids’ school. Without fail my kids wake up ‘sick’. After a random autopsy on their school bag my suspicions are confirmed. School carnival. I make them go. Hell, I even turn up. I love getting photos of them coming last so I can post on Facebook: “Here’s my kid giving it a go! So Proud! Look at that resilience!”. I actually feel sorry for the kids who win. How will they ever know how to lose?

According to mental health researchers this could be considered some sort of parental abuse. Running across the oval according to them, could be the cause of long term anxiety for our kids. Especially if people are watching.

Side note… Mamamia staff confess: The time I was a bad mum. Post continues after video.

Yes, schools are now being warned that compulsory sports carnival participation can put children off exercise for life.

When I read this I felt horrified. This isn’t just wrapping your kids up in cotton wool, it’s burying them deep in a pyramid of avoidance and fear. What kids actually fear is the humiliation of losing. One of the greatest lessons in life can be learning to lose. You don’t learn anything standing on the winner’s podium. You do, however, learn a lot by losing. You learn how to blame someone else. Then you learn your own limitations. You learn to be gracious. You learn that everyone has different strengths. You learn that it’s not always your day to shine. By not allowing our kids to come last, to be the stragglers at the back of the pack, we rob them of the most important skill of all, and that’s not a blue ribbon you can put on the fridge for a few weeks; it’s a lifetime of resilience.

Children aren’t traumatised by school carnivals. They are traumatised by neglectful parents. By violence. By child abuse. I wish the same experts could take this concern for child welfare and do something about family violence. Because that’s a lot more harmful than high jump.

Mental health researcher Helen Street says, “forcing kids to compete when they’re not wanting to can cause extreme anxiety”. Come on. Is this just parents trying to avoid that awful morning of extreme parenting when they have to convince their kid to be in the school carnival?


Is this the easy way out for kids? Or for the parents?

athletics carnival
"By creating a world that minimises anxiety in our children we curate an unreal landscape." Image: Supplied.

And just how does that play out in a child's life? Are school assessments where you are ranked against the class too stressful? Maybe ban that too. What about the HSC? Entry criteria to university? Maybe students could just submit their knitting? Or an interpretive dance?

By creating a world that minimises anxiety in our children we curate an unreal landscape where there are no challenges, or at least ones they don't WANT to face. Life's not like that. We often have to compete, for jobs, for partners, for what we want, and we need to have faith in our own resourcefulness and capacity to survive hardship or loss.

Competing can be fun. No one actually likes losing, but isn't the whole ethos supposed to be that it's the game that counts? That it's the process not the outcome?

It’s ridiculous. I can just imagine this bloke in therapy in years to come sobbing "Mum made me go to the Sports Carnival. I was in the relay – I dropped the baton." Poor fella now has PTSCD – that's post traumatic school carnival disorder. He’s been dropping the baton ever since!