October 29, 2010

Competition: What Not to Do

Competition among young people has its place – with sports and in other extracurricular activities (academic decathlons, drama auditions, or trying to earn first chair in band, for instance). And participating in those endeavors provides valuable training and experience for matters in adult life that can, by nature, be competitive (i.e., interviewing for jobs or operating a small business). However, I think we do kids a grave disservice if we communicate – directly or indirectly – that life is “all about” competition.

Specifically, I believe competition with others has no place where kids spend the bulk of their time each day: at home and/or in the classroom. Instead, home should be the haven where a child is celebrated for the unique, one-of-a-kind miracle God created her to be. How she “stacks up” to a brother or sister should carry no weight. So parents shouldn’t verbalize comparisons between children and shouldn’t allow siblings to do so either. To allow it is to allow rivalry and contempt to take root, both of which ultimately damage each child and destroy family unity.

Similarly, I don’t believe a classroom should be the least bit competitive. After all, the ultimate goal of education for each individual should be self-improvement – i.e., the acquisition and application of new information and skills so that each one can maximize his potential in terms of how he’s individually “wired.” And each child’s daily goal should be to become better tomorrow than he was today – in terms of his own understanding and skills, not in comparison to his seatmate’s. So, in that sense, it matters not one iota how one child in a class “stacks up” to others, and teachers who play that game damage all their students.

If you find upon reflection that you foster unhealthy competition by comparing one child to another, you can do something about it. For starters, I highly recommend Dr. Kathy’s book How Am I Smart?, in which she brilliantly describes the eight unique ways in which each individual is intelligent. Read with each of your kids in mind and purpose to pinpoint specific strengths within each child. But don’t use comparative language, such as, “Johnny is the best swimmer in our family.” Instead, say, “Johnny is body smart and a great swimmer. Sally is word smart and a wonderful storyteller.”

As with any habit, it takes time to change one’s way of thinking in this regard. But I can attest to the fact that, if you’ll purpose to think in a new way, it will soon become automatic. And then you can communicate that attitude to the children in your care and, thus, minimize unnecessary, unhelpful competition among them.

Photo Credit: Nagatta Away


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