4 Tips for Encoraging Healthy Competition in Kids


I am much more comfortable avoiding competition in my classroom. I know some see competition as a motivator and others see it as a skill extremely useful for dealing with the competitive realities of the real world. I worry about its effect on classroom unity and friendships. I want my classroom working for and with each other instead of ‘dog eat dog’.

I am very grateful to have stumbled on a useful article that gives 4 ways to encourage healthy competition:


1. Don’t focus on winning

Not everyone can win every competition, whether it be athletic, academic, or just for fun. By focusing on the event itself, rather than the outcome, children can both try to do their best and not be devastated if they lose.

“It’s not all about winning,” Kenneth Barish, a clinical associate professor of psychology at Weill Medical College at Cornell University, told NPR. “It’s also about teamwork. And it’s about effort … becoming a better player.”

David Johnson, professor emeritus of educational psychology at the University of Minnesota, suggested that parents, coaches and teachers not inflate the benefits of winning or coming in first.

“If the stakes are low, the emphasis is placed upon sheer enjoyment of the activity,” Johnson told the Deseret News.

Those who didn’t win the game, score the most points or come in first should still feel like they had an enjoyable experience and got something valuable out of the activity.

2. Let kids learn from failure

Since life will inevitably bring failure at some point, experts recommend letting kids develop coping skills in a low-risk situation.

“Parents see failure as a source of pain for their child instead of an opportunity for him to say, ‘I can deal with this. I’m strong,’ ” says Madeline Levine, Ph.D., author of “The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage Are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids,” in a Parent.com article.

While it can be devastating to watch your child suffer, teachers like Jessica Lahey have learned that children perform better when given the chance to fail and accept the consequences.

“Year after year, my ‘best’ students — the ones who are happiest and successful in their lives — are the students who were allowed to fail, held responsible for missteps, and challenged to be the best people they could be in the face of their mistakes,” Lahey wrote in The Atlantic.

3. Don’t make your love conditional on their success

While this may seem like a no-brainer, parents can inadvertently send the wrong message to their kids.

A recent Deseret News article discussed a study by Harvard University that found children and teenagers are three times more likely to agree with the statement, “My parents are prouder if I get good grades in my classes than if I’m a caring community member in class and school.”

“It’s good for kids to value excellence as long as they don’t feel valued only for their excellence,” Sylvia Rimm, director of the Family Achievement Clinic in Cleveland, wrote for the clinic’s website. “Parents’ messages that ‘we like children who win, who are the smartest, and who excel,’ should be changed to ‘we like children who try, who are responsible, and who make positive and sincere efforts.’ ”

Rimm pointed out that highly competitive families can sometimes instill a belief in the child that winning is associated with their self-worth, which can make future failures impossible to handle positively.

4. Have fun and focus on priorities

Parents don’t need to protect their kids from the stress of competition or the failure of losing, but they should make sure that the situation — a soccer game, a spelling bee, a board game or simply getting good grades — is a fun and positive experience.

“When asked whether they would rather be warming the bench on a winning team or playing regularly on a losing team, nearly 90 percent of children chose the latter,” reported the Deseret News, referencing a Michigan State study.

Kids will compete naturally, and want to be the best, but parents can help children understand that competition is not just about winning; it’s about having fun and learning important skills, psychologist David Johnson told the New York Times.

“By taking the emphasis off winning and putting it on mastery,” Johnson said, “the individual and the team — classroom, country, world — will grow in the process.”


Click on the link to read Proof that the Goodness of Our Youth Cannot be Underestimated (Video)

Click on the link to read Teaching Kids to be Competitive Often Leads to Needless Pain

Click on the link to read Two High School Athletes Brawl During Race (Video)

Click on the link to read Tips for Teaching Your Children How to Lose

Click on the link to read Preparing Students for the Real World

Click on the link to read Is Competition in the Classroom a Good Thing?


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