-Merina Shrestha

Sure, it’s a pretty tough world out there, and sure, you would like your child to be well prepared to tackle everything life throws at him/her in a strong and positive manner. Which means, you want your child to be competitive, and you believe that developing this competitive spirit should start early in life. However, a bit of caution is called for at this point.

When we talk about competition, we often visualize children who try hard to win most of the time, who try to prove themselves at every opportunity, and who don’t take losing kindly. Competing for grades, competing for attention, competing to prove the best among the rest don’t make for a conducive atmosphere, breeding bitterness in relationships, friendship, and even amongst siblings. Nevertheless, competition is a part of growing up, and instead of shunning it, it should be dealt with healthily. Besides, not all competition is unhealthy. In fact, it can be used as a tool to motivate a child to give his best.

Many times we find children resorting to unfair means to get ahead, like cheating at exams, bragging, using aggression, getting violent when someone else wins, or quitting or getting depressed when one loses. These are some of the markers of unhealthy competition. These unhealthy means of competition work as a hindrance towards the right perspective of competition. Whereas competition of any kind is not just limited to schools or childhood, they follow through adulthood and influence other areas of life. So, to inculcate healthy competition, teachers, parents, and related professionals should facilitate children right from the beginning.

She further adds, “As competition is a part of life, not all competition is negative. If used positively, it improves life. Children should be given clear guidance or they should be made familiar with competition rules. They should be appreciated for their effort, rather than winning or losing. They should be taught that winning or losing is not everything and it’s the effort that counts. With these simple rules, competition actually helps a child to perform better. “

Likewise, Mr. Rakesh Upadhaya, Director, Kidzee Pre-School, Kamalpokhari, shares his views, “Competition should not be introduced during the early years of childhood as they don’t know the concept of competition, i.e., in play group, Nursery, lower K.G. At these levels, they learn about primary discipline of life, i.e., how to eat, sleep, smile, and get involved with friends and teachers. Gradually, at the level of senior K.G, we can introduce about competition in academic, music, sports, and other educational activities.”

He elaborates further, “In the beginning, competition should be introduced in conditional ways. For instance, they can be told that if they do better than their friends, they will get chocolates/toys, which serve as a reward to them, which is conditional. If a child is rewarded among friends, he will be self motivated. Along with him, other friends also do better by imitating his/her rewarded friends. But, one should not compare with the other, because even identical twins can differ in their behavioral aspects. If one child is good in academic field, another might be good in other activity. They are good in one way or other. We should make them feel, “he/she is better in some or the other aspect,” then automatically, he/she will be better.”

He further adds, “The mother is the first school for any child; pre-school takes second place. Give them opportunity to bloom with self motivation rather than forced competition. Children take elders as their role models, especially parents. Therefore, to help children with their competition maze, it’s important to reflect on our own competitive style as parents.”

Ms. Shova K. C., a teacher at Pathshala Nepal Foundation, shares, “Participation is of prime importance. We ask children to try their best. Apart from the students who perform better, we also appreciate the effort of students who try, by motivating and rewarding them. We make sure that every competition is healthy. Comparison is never used to motivate. Instead, we say that that if a friend can do something, you can also do the same thing better. “

“Despite attempts to make competition healthy, sometimes negativity creeps in. For example, if an average-performing student is given attention to do better, the high performer tends to feel jealous. As soon as we get the hint, we counsel them. More than competition, we prioritize participation. Before any kind of competitive activity, we let them practice and rehearse, and ask them to help each other and cooperate so as to give their best. This makes for healthy competition,” she adds.

Clinical psychologist Chhori Laxmi Maharjan offers her views on competition: “Healthy and unhealthy competition should be differentiated. Generally, in our society, unhealthy competition is prominent. The concept of competition starts from early childhood at pre-school and home, whereas these are the places where competition should be avoided. The long-term effect of unhealthy competition is serious where a child thinks less of herself, his/her self-esteem diminishes overtime, and self-worth deteriorates. It starts affecting everyday normal life, and gives rise to problems like not getting along well with friends. If he/she fails to come up to expectations and is subjected to comparison now and then, he/she starts having negative self-worth, and starts making mistakes and continues to fail. As a result, they are withdrawn, hesitate to speak in the group, and their overall life is affected.

She further adds, “To promote healthy competition, parents, teachers, and related professionals should know how to promote competition without developing significant negative impact on a child’s psychology. Competition should be used to motivate a child, not to distort the personality. They should know when to praise and how much to praise since overt praise also leads to false personality. They should use child-friendly communication.”

Some tips for parents, teachers, and related professionals dealing with children:

  1. Understand the child. First of all, understand your child and let your child understand you.
  2. Use child-friendly communication. For example, say, “I am here.” “I understand you.” “I care for you,” and also let them know about your feelings. For example, say “I feel sad when you act inappropriately,’ and so on.
  3. Child-parent relationship therapy. Be with your child for at least half an hour a day, and never do for a child that which he can do for himself. Encourage your child by saying things like, “You really worked hard on that,” and “I have confidence in you, you’ll figure it out.” Set limits appropriately. Also, see and experience the child’s play through the child’s eyes.
  4. Implementation behavior or behavior therapy. Let the child lead, follow the child. Communicate in clear and soft ways. Do not use criticism, preaching, or giving excessive information.

In addition to above parents and teachers should instill among their brood that first and foremost, children should learn to compete with themselves. Every child is gifted in some way or the other. They should be helped to move ahead according to their own capacity. They should first compete with themselves bettering their own performance than the last attempt. Each child’s potential and limitations are different. What is suited for one may not work for the other. More than winning or losing, it’s the effort and the spirit that’s more important. It’s their own capacity that needs to be honed and highlighted. Then, the competition truly becomes a sportsmanship. n

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