Competitive children

Diane Levy joins us to provide expert answers to your parenting queries. Send your questions to: [email protected]. Diane can’t answer individual queries, but we will endeavour to publish a representative sample on this page. Diane’s parenting books are available in bookshops.

Dear Diane

oy six-year-old son is great, but he’s very competitive. We’ve always believed you have to try if you want to win, and I wouldn’t want him to be happy with average if he could do better, but he’s desperate to be the best at everything, and gets really down if he isn’t.

He recently came second in a competition for his entire school year, but rather than being happy, as we were for him, he just got fixated on why he didn’t win! How do we teach him to keep trying, but also let him know winning isn’t everything?

Cindy, Auckland


Dear Cindy

We all tend to operate in three modalities – thinking, doing and feeling – and they all influence each other. At the moment, your child is overwhelmed with frustration when he loses.

No amount of doing (talking about how to keep trying) or thinking (talking about how winning isn’t everything) will help while he’s overwhelmed by his feelings. So show your support – put an arm around him or cuddle him, and put into words what you guess he’s feeling. Express the words as intensely as he’s feeling them. Don’t try to make him calm down, he will feel that you don’t understand how bad it is for him.

Instead, say, “This is horrible for you,” or, “You really hate it when you don’t come first,” or, “Second just doesn’t feel good enough for you.” Any of these phrases will help him feel understood. Stay until his feelings are settled. Then he will be able to think about what to do next.

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