Are You Raising a Poor Sport? Teaching Kids to Compete
Competition can build character in kids. But how do you teach a child that winning isn't everything—and is that a lesson you need to learn, too?
When Competitiveness Begins
For as long as Rene Staudacher can remember, her son Jake has had a competitive edge. Be it a simple game of Chutes and Ladders or baseball playoffs, he is always out to win. “Jake doesn’t like to lose,” says Staudacher. “He sets very high standards for himself.”
Luke Branson’s first brush with competition came during a Sesame Street board game. “He was three years old, and it was the first time he had ever played a game,” recalls his mother Liza. “We had played about three rounds, and I had let him win every time. Then it occurred to me I wasn’t doing him any favors by not letting him lose.” So the next round was not rigged and Luke lost. “Boy, was he upset!” Branson continues. “He sat on my lap and cried. He just didn’t understand why he couldn’t win all the time.”
“Children start asking questions about competition around 3 to 3 1/2 years old,” says Jessica Giles, assistant professor of psychology at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. “This is when they start to understand basic concepts of winning and losing—’I beat you to the door,’ ‘I finished my snack first.’ It isn’t until later that they begin to learn about games that involve numerical value, such as soccer or baseball.”
Paige Powell, child psychologist at Texas Children’s Hospital, agrees. “Winning and losing in sports doesn’t have much meaning to preschoolers. They are more concerned about skill development, what they have almost done—’Did you see me catch that ball?’ It is later, age 7 or 8, when they start thinking in more competitive terms.”
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