School is well underway.  That means most parents are spending the majority of their lives at a playing field or on their way to one.  

During the competition, parents often cheer excitedly.  During the ride home, everyone tends to discuss the outcome and evaluate performance.  While most parents have good intentions, many unintentionally dishearten their children and encourage unhealthy competition.  

What is the Difference Between Unhealthy and Healthy Competition?

At the time, your words and comments might seem to be inconsequential.  However, in the long run, they can have a huge impact.  Note the difference between unhealthy and healthy competition.  Which do you encourage in your house?
  • Healthy Competition

Parents support healthy competition by encouraging their children to focus on doing their best, having fun and learning a skill.  This type of competition requires teamwork and positive participation.  Participants are encouraged to improve themselves and learn a new technique.  Winning is just an added bonus. 

  • Unhealthy Competition

This might be difficult for some parents to hear, but focusing on winning and being the best is an unhealthy way to compete.  Parents are encouraging their child to be better than others.  The pressure to win is more important than having fun or learning a new skill.  Children who do their best and still lose feel like a failure.  

You Might Be Encouraging Unhealthy Competition and You Don’t Even Know It!

All of us want to do right by our children.  None of us intentionally want to cause them harm or pain.  Unfortunately, there are lots of ways parents promote unhealthy competition without intending to.  Here are three ways you might be leading your child down a path of unhealthy competition. 

1.  Let’s Race!

We all have days when we want to motivate our youngster into action.  However, suggesting the first person to complete a task wins is the wrong way to do it.  Usually, the youngest or weakest child comes in last.  This only makes the child feel more dejected.  

If you want to get your children to kick it in gear, that’s fine; just don’t resort to racing.  Instead, opt for a way to do something fast without a winner.  For example, “Let’s see how many blocks we can pick up before this song ends.” 

2.  Being a Bad Example

Most parents encourage their children to avoid selfishness and poor sportsmanship.  However, parents can sometimes get caught up in the excitement and forget their own advice.  They sit in the bleachers and heave insults at children, referees, and coaches.  Instead of being negative, offer positive suggestions.  Way to go, nice hit, and keep it up are all acceptable.  If you are going to offer suggestions for improvement, make sure those are positive too – spread out, bend your knees, work together. 

Competition doesn’t end with the game.  Remember to check your comments on the ride home too.  Don’t dwell on the final outcome; instead note how well your child preformed, how nicely the team worked together, and how hard everyone worked.  If your child brings the conversation back to the score, try to redirect to overall effort or signs of improvement.  

3.  Comparisons

Comparing your children to one another is a bad idea.  Try to avoid letting even an occasional, “Why can’t you be more like your sister?” comment slip out.  These huffy statements are not motivational.  Children will feel inferior and come to resent their sibling.  Even if the other child didn’t participate in the comparison, the statement alone is sufficient to form bad blood. 

Even if you try to put a positive spin on the comparison, you are still building someone up by putting another down.  Your child will feel pressure to always be better than someone.  You won’t be boosting your child’s self-esteem at all.  If anything, you’ll only boost his or her ego.    

Follow this advice from the book Siblings Without Rivalry:  Whatever you want to tell a child can be said directly, without any reference to another child 

Opt for a healthy dose of competition instead of an unhealthy one.  Encourage your child to offer his best.  Focus on your child’s improved skills and her positive interactions with teammates.  In the end, your child will be more confident and have healthier relationships with others. 

Guest author Jessica Velasco works for a cornhole supplier; click here to view their products.  Jessica often brings game boards and bags home from the office to play with her family.  However, everyone is aware of Mom and Dad’s expectations to keep the competition healthy and friendly.

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