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 a Child Is Too Competitive
Experts agree it is normal to show disappointment in a bad play or lost game, but if a child’s view of competition gets out of control, parents may need to intervene. Signs this may be happening include intense anger or crying, an abundance of negative self-talk, becoming overly anxious about competing, cheating, withdrawal from friends and other activities, unsportsmanlike conduct, and/or using performance enhancing drugs. If any of these symptoms appear, it’s time for a discussion.
“Give your child time to cool down, and then talk it over,” says Giles. “Find out why he was so upset. Then reframe it—’What were the good things that happened on the field today? You didn’t win, but you did do good things. Can you name a few?’”
Most important, reinforce what is and is not acceptable behavior. “Kids need to learn that losing is an important part of playing too,” says Powell. “We learn things when we lose just like we do when we win, and children need to be good losers and good winners.” This, she says, is best taught at home. “Children look to their parents to know how to live. They take their cues from us. We set the tone in how they view competition.”
“Jake is just like his dad—he wants to win and hates to lose,” says Staudacher. “But one thing I appreciate about my husband is that he keeps it all in perspective. From the sidelines I’ll hear him say, ‘That’s OK, Jake. You can do it next time.’ And if his team loses a game, his dad focuses on the positive and reminds Jake how important it is to congratulate the winning team.”
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