Like two referees umpiring a professional sports game my husband and I watch as our two daughters (five and four) race at lighting speed to put their pyjamas on.
Their faces hold a stern, concentrated expression, their focus on doing their pyjama buttons up will momentarily pause while they look up to assess what stage of dressing the other is at. “I’m going to win” they both taunt, until finally one does and the other falls to the ground in tears.
The competitiveness of both my daughters is intense. It began with my eldest when she started school this year and like many behaviours displayed by her, it seemed to then ‘spread’ to my younger daughter soon after. The desire to win has become a favourite pastime in our house – from putting pyjamas on, who does better at their swimming lesson, who eats dinner the quickest, it doesn’t really matter what the task is, in their eyes, there can always be a winner and unfortunately a ‘loser’.
It has been a challenging issue to tackle for my husband and I. We see the benefit in having a competitive spirit and the fact that winning is seen positively in many respects is undeniable. It can make you try harder, it increases self-confidence and it can make you feel pretty good! The desire to win is understandable.
We also acknowledge that people can’t win all the time, that there are other more important life lessons such as trying your best and that losing should be dealt with in a more graceful manner than dramatically hurling yourself into the floor in tears. So in a process of trial and error here is a summary of what worked and what didn’t in our war against needing to win...at everything.
1. Talking about it.
“I don’t win anything,” my eldest wailed as her little sister triumphantly walked away from her pyjama dressing victory. Unfortunately Addi, my eldest daughter has inherited my over - dramatic reactions in dealing with unideal outcomes (and she is five) so I nominated myself to have a conversation about this with her. I spoke about having fun and trying your best, that these were the most important elements, not winning. “Not everyone can be the best at everything,” I said. Her reply, “But I want to be.”
Score 4/10- Although a reasonable conversation was had about the issue, it was not persuasive in changing her mind about wanting to win.
2. Encouraging good sportsmanship.
“See how they shake hands at the end of the match,” I pointed out while watching some tennis on the TV. “This is a really important thing to do whenever you play a game, even if you don’t win. Maybe we should try that?” Fast forward two hours after a game of Junior Monopoly, Addi won and offered her hand for us to shake, “Good try”. She said. Pretty good I thought to myself. Game two- Addi did not win, the result? Let’s just say it wasn’t the same as Game one and much similar to the loss in her pyjama race.
Score 6/10- Some demonstration of the good sportsmanship ethics, just not quite there with consistency.
3. Change the activity.
Maybe a break from all of this competitiveness would be a good idea? Out came our paint and paint brushes and we all had a go at creating some artwork. “Great job Addi, I love the colours you’ve used.” “What about mine? Don’t you like mine?” Asked Milla. “Yes I do, I really like the way you’ve painted the person’s face”, I replied. “Don’t you like my person’s face?” Asked Addi. And this back and forth of painting validation and competition of whose was the best painting proceeded for about ten minutes until something else distracted them and I could quickly pack this ‘fun, non-competitive’ activity away before they remembered that they were competing.
Score 6/10- not as intense as other competition but not really successful in preventing it.
Although I am not really very helpful in finding any solutions to this competitiveness I was slightly comforted by the fact that this is quite normal in children around this age due to physical and analytical skills that are being developed. Losing is also a skill that needs to be learnt. Raising Kids Australia says that “learning to lose takes time”, it is a skill that needs to be learnt and that like anything some find it harder than others. The website also had some great practical tips including a ‘fair play’ checklist to assist with this sort of issue and implementing fairness and good sportsmanship from early on.
So with the webpage saved in my Bookmarks, I am off to decide what I might try next.
Are your daughters competitive? How do you deal with is? Tell us in the comments!