Is Competition Good for your Children
This is one of those questions that cannot be answered with a simple yes or no. Researchers and child psychologists have spent a considerable amount of time just to study the impact competition can have on children and it’s positive or negative consequences. Children in different age groups work, think, and behave differently. What can be said of one age group might be invalid for the other.
To analyze if healthy competition is actually a concept or just another oxymoron, it is necessary to categorize children in age groups and study their behavioral patterns to arrive to a conclusion. Research indicates that age, talent, temperament and culture of a child, play a part in how the child handles competition.
Children are not born with a competitive disposition. They do not have a mean streak that urges them to compare skills and do better unless they are egged on. It is an acquired skill that they learn later on. In fact, most children between 10 and 11 cannot even work well in teams. They also have to be of this age to understand sportsmanship, and to handle and accept defeat with dignity.
The Difference in Attitude
Children differ in attitude. Some can adapt to competition and thrive while others can be a nervous wreck when it comes to proving something. Adults need to remember that competition is tough. Where one child wins, the other loses and loses a bit of self-esteem in the process.
It will be unnecessary to encourage a competitive child to compete, while nudging a reluctant child who has potential can actually be good for them. If they win, they become more confident about themselves. But losing is a serious business for the other one who also wanted to win.
The Pros and Cons of Competition
Competition can be good for children by enhancing their skills and allowing them to develop a healthy attitude towards victory and defeat. Competition can encourage growth in a child’s abilities to excel. Additionally, a competitive environment can:
- Enable children to know about their own abilities and limitations. Children can see how far they can be pushed.
- Teach children to set goals
- Make them handle losses
- Hone their skills and competence in an area
- Inculcate problem solving skills
- Make children try out varied roles
- Make children learn and follow rules
- Develop team playing
- Teach children how to perform before others
Although competition can come with incentives and be a very strong driving force, but it can be counterproductive if too much stress is laid on being the best. If the child does not enjoy winning at their own pace and comfort zone, then it is not worth the trouble. If competing means having their self-esteem torn to shreds upon losing, then it is best to leave the child be. Competition can be damaging to a child if:
- It causes emotional trauma or physical injury to the child
- It spells doom for the loser or consequences
- Winning at any cost is crucial
- It is just done for parents’ own interests
- It humiliates or shatters self-worth of the contestants
- It has elements of aggression and hostility against other participants
To determine if children are actually eligible to compete in any form, it is essential to divide them in age groups and study their oft-exhibited attributes.
Six to Eight-year Olds
Children in this age group think and reason on a different wavelength than others. At this stage, they are self-centered and less coordinated. They operate and process by feeling, touching and seeing things. They enjoy being in the limelight, so throwing them in a competition is akin to nipping their self-esteem in the bud.
They like being right and are eager to learn and try different activities at their own pace. They are play-oriented and enjoy simple games with a few rules. They all want to be winners and leaders and demand attention all the time. Children in this age group cannot be introduced to competitive activities as they would not do well or handle defeat effectively. They need to work in groups and should be encouraged to participate in group activities to enhance their skills and coordination. This way, they will also learn to work with other people.
Nine to Twelve-year Olds
They reason differently from the previous age group. At this stage, they try to please other people and want to uphold responsible behavior. So they show fairness in games and tend to follow rules. They fear embarrassing situations and dread failing in school. Children of this age group also have a moral conscience developed to some extent.
They understand competitive play and winning and losing both means something to them.
When should Competition be Allowed?
Children under 7 have no care for competitive play. Winning or losing means little to them and they are more concerned with playing the game. They break the rules when they don’t understand them or when they simply don’t remember. They play games just for the thrill of it.
By 8, children have the ability to follow rules and winning is important to them. 6-8 year olds can suffer from poor self-worth if they lose and especially if parents stress on winning. Research recommends that children in this age group should be encouraged to participate in non-competitive activities that enhance their skills rather than trying to defeat one another. They are not mature enough to devise strategies to outperform their peers.
9-12 year olds enjoy competitive play. They know what it means to win and lose and can generally handle the outcomes better. Children over 12 are ideal candidates for competition and can be encouraged to participate in such activities and they usually fare better.
However, while planning activities, parents should take the following into consideration:
- Devise games for the young ones where every child is a winner
- Plan both strategy games and games of chance for children
- Teach children the importance of team playing and develop a sportsman spirit in them
- Make sure their children understand that winning or losing do not define who they are
- Don’t favor one child over the other or bend rules for the winner
- Also, reward competitive behavior regardless of the outcome
Parents are most influential when moulding their child’s personality so make sure you adopt a healthy attitude towards competition too.