Sports Relief starts tomorrow and as thousands run, swim and cycle across the UK to raise money to fund projects in the world’s poorest communities with 50% of the funding going to projects rights here in the UK. So while the country gears into sporting action we thought it might be a good time to focus on why competition is good for kids.
Competition for kids can famously be an unwanted thing. Not only does it place too much pressure on kids to be their best, they argue, but it can also cause unnecessary stress and leave children feeling disappointed if they don’t measure up. However, child development experts point out that a little healthy competition can be good for kids. Not only does it prepare them for the ups and downs of life, competitive activities help them to develop important skills such as turn taking, empathy and tenacity. All vital tools needed in adulthood.
Timothy Gunn, Psy.D., a paediatric neuropsychologist says “Competition helps kids learn that it is not always the best or the brightest who are successful, but rather those that work hard and stick with it,” He also adds that children who compete “earn critical social skills through interacting with other children, while also learning the value of hard work and developing self-esteem and self-efficacy.”
However, there is such a thing as unhealthy competition. The most important thing is to make a lot of your child’s reaction to the situation. If they ask to take part in the activity again, are able to win and lose gracefully and seem to have an improved self-esteem then you will know that it was a healthy experience. On the other hand, if they resist participation, try to avoid the activity or show signs of anxiety, difficulty sleeping or loss of appetite then be sure to discuss with your child what is worrying them.
“Most competitive children experience some anxiety before a big game (or test), but they should not be constantly worried to the extent that it is affecting other areas of their life,” Dr Gunn warns.
How to encourage healthy competition?
- define accomplishment not just as winning the activity, but as setting a goal for something they put their minds to and accomplish.
- be there to support your kids through their challenges and regularly reinforce the message that it’s okay to lose as long as they are putting forth and effort and learning from the experience
- Modelling your good behaviour (i.e. no blaming of refs).
- And never underestimate a change in perspective. For example, if your child is disappointed in losing a race encourage them not worry about how fast the other kids are but to just race against the clock. Your child’s perspective will change from competing against the other kids to competing against their own performance. As a result, they will go from experiencing failure to experiencing success