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Competition and children

Do you let your children win?

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Eventually he started running again, with a couple breaks of walking. The whole time I was offering what I hoped were encouraging words: "be tough," "push yourself," "compete!"

We managed to complete the loop, and as we cooled down with a little water, I asked him when he wanted to go running with me again. He said, "next year," and I haven't been able to get him to go again.

So did I push him too hard? Should I have just told him it was OK to walk? I don't know.

I want him to push himself, to challenge himself in everything he does, but I also don't want to be that parent ... who pushes too hard. While I want him to always strive to win at everything he does, I also don't want him to be devastated by loss. I've seen way too many Lifetime movies and after-school specials where the children pushed to perfection end up anorexic, suicidal, drug-addicted messes.

It's not that I care if he's the best, if he brings homes the medals; it's that I want him to always try to be, to do his best. To settle for mediocrity is one of the most frightening fates I could see for my children. Being average is OK, but not striving for more is unacceptable. I want him to learn to accept defeat gracefully but never to expect defeat.

I'm about as competitive as one can get, but I honestly can't think of many things I've ever "won." I'm a slow runner; I wasn't at the top of my class in high school or college; I've never won any big awards or competitions that I can call to mind; and I know how badly losing hurts. But I compete - even if it's just with myself - in everything I do from working out, to cooking meals for my family to parenting. Because I could run faster, and I could cook healthier meals, and I could be a more patient parent. So shouldn't I try? And shouldn't I encourage my children to do the same?

As for Wii, it's not an issue in our house anymore. After a long haitus on my part, I picked up my remote last week and played game after game with him. There was no way, no matter how hard I tried, that I could beat him - even if I had wanted to. He's gotten good!

So how do you strike a balance - teach children to compete, teach them to push themselves, but not push them to a point where they're frustrated and devastated by failure? And how much do you think is nature versus nurture? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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