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3 ways to support a competitive child

You may recognise some of the following traits in your competitive child:

  • wanting to win at all costs, including a willingness to cheat to ensure this outcome
  • being rude and unpleasant to their peers, siblings and competitors
  • An almighty fallout or melt down when they don’t win
Competitive child

We’re often told competitiveness is healthy, it drives motivation and helps us to strive to succeed. But what about when it causes emotional distress for your child or those around them? The first thing to recognise, is that comparison is completely natural and normal. As Brené Brown says, it is completely human to compare, it is how we are wired. The choice point is around what we choose to do with the comparison. We can either use it to judge ourselves negatively and feel threatened or we can learn to use it for inspiration and connection.

Here are three ideas to consider when supporting your child with an overly competitive approach which is causing them emotional distress.

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Focus on mastery rather than winning

For many children, the competitiveness comes from a place of who won? Who was fastest, smartest or earned the most points? Try to help your child focus on the importance of mastery as opposed to instant success. We compete, train and work hard at our craft to develop our mastery and talent, not just to score the points. These empty wins might feel like the most important thing in the moment, but the real challenge is to make sure our skill or talent runs deep. Your child could look to famous sports people, adults at home and the way they take on board feedback and accept the ‘loses’. The losses in fact teach us more about our performance than the wins.

Scarcity & fear vs abundance

Unhealthy competitiveness is often steeped in fear based on a scarcity mindset. Your success threatens me because I now have to fight harder as there’ll be nothing left for me. If your child’s mindset focuses on there being a limited amount of success available, this is likely to be driving their fear and emotional distress at the prospect of losing. Think about ways to illustrate the point that there is plenty of opportunity for different ways and chances to experience success. There are enough to go round and enough for everyone to have their moment, therefore someone else’s moment of success doesn’t take away from your potential to experience success.

The healthiest form of competition

If your child sees the competition in everything, take the opportunity to help them consider competition with themselves. Some might argue that the healthiest form of competition is that which we have with ourselves as this helps us reflect on our own progress and focus on how we can improve. Rather than always comparing their performance against others, find opportunities to help them reflect on their own progress; have they achieved a quicker time, increased their score or developed in some way since their last attempt? Our natural instinct is to compare ourselves to our peers but for many, this can be disheartening rather than motivating. Challenging ourselves reminds us that we’re looking for progress not perfection.

This article was written by Louise Treherne, Director of Character Education at Role Models. Louise has a degree in Psychology, 12 years experience as a teacher, including 5 years as a Senior Deputy Head at a London Prep school. She now works as a Professional Coach and Educational Consultant.

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