Winning is great! It’s likely accurate to say that everyone likes to win. Unfortunately, some people take it too far and focus too much on rising above everyone else. In competitions and games, that kind of over-concentration on winning can ruin the fun for everyone else – and, ultimately, for the person themselves.
This is even more apparent in children. Still, in their formative years with developing brains, kids pick up on many toxic undertones in generally problematic behavior. Children raised to think that winning is all that matters are likely to face many problems attempting to adjust to a more balanced approach to competition.
Competition is a great thing for a child. It teaches them about effort, working with and around others, and how different everyone’s abilities and methods can be. But being overly competitive can ultimately damage a child’s perception of the competitive world that we live in, leading to behavioral problems that are carried forward into adulthood.
It can be tough to teach a child a healthy approach to competition correctly. Some parents and guardians may not even see much of an issue with a little, overly ambitious child when it comes to contests, but kids must be taught healthier views of such challenges. Here are 6 reasons why children should know that winning isn’t all that matters.
1. It’s Unhealthy Fodder For The Self-Esteem
It’s almost fair to say that winning all the time does to self-esteem what eating too much sugar does to teeth. When children put all their stock into winning, what they’re doing is bolstering their self-esteem with victories.
In moderation, this can remind a child of their abilities and motivate them. In excess, it can cause them to become reliant on victory to feel good about themselves. A few pointers about this and how unhealthy this can be are:
- A majority of people lose competitions (there can only be a few winners, or even just one), so your child has a higher chance of losing than winning in most cases – and when that starts to happen, their self-esteem may tank if they’re overly dependent on wins for confidence.
- Competition often teaches children to be better than other children, not to be their own personal best; it’s not enough to be just “good.” You have to be “better than everyone else.” This creates a self-esteem dependence on comparison with others.
- Parents who support the concept that winning is what matters most wind up indirectly conveying the idea that their child must win to be loved. Children may then develop unhealthy mechanisms to achieve the parents’ pride when they aren’t able to win something.
2. It Teaches Self-Focus
Competition is about the “I,” not the “we.” Even in team-based competitions, children who grow up learning that winning is all they should strive for will often compete among themselves, trying to outshine their teammates.
It’s a bold sentiment and one that some can certainly appreciate, but this can take the fun out of sports and result in an inability to work in a team. Most of a human being’s life involves the need for teamwork and cooperation, and if your child can’t be a team player when he grows up, he’s going to have a lot of trouble.
A study actually found that for competitive and team sports to provide positive benefits to children, the following factors must be a part of the activity:
- Reduced negative reinforcement and no punishments
- Emphasis on enjoyment and having fun
- Concentration on effort
- Concentration on teamwork and cooperation
- Less focus on competitiveness and winning
3. It Can Cause Burnout
Many people underestimate how much burnout can affect someone. If you’re not familiar with the concept of burnout, it is essentially a severe form of mental exhaustion. Think about it this way: if you run for a whole day, you’ll be so exhausted at the end that you won’t physically be able to move anymore. Burnout is like that, but for mental energy instead of physical.
Surveys have shown that a shocking 70% of young individuals are dropping out of sports, specifically organized, competitive sports, by the time they turn 13. As it turns out, constant pressure to win and be better than everyone else can lead to problems such as:
- Excessive pressure and stress
- The removal of the aspects of fun from the game
- Injuries due to overuse
- An inability to balance social, academic, and sports-related responsibilities
- Being shoehorned into that one field, unable to explore and discover as children should be able to
- The loss of a passion due to forced performance
4. It Can Lead To Hostility
Children can be somewhat impulsive when they become emotional, and a child who has learned that winning is the most important thing can become very emotional, indeed when they lose.
Losing is commonplace in any competition. No one will win all the time, and when one person wins, others, by default, cannot win. This results in several problems:
· Winners and Losers Are Treated Accordingly
Your child will envy winners and treat losers as if they are beneath them. This can cause labeling behavior, and a lot of harmful actions may be taken by your child when they act out or lash out at those who carry these labels.
· Everyone Is An Enemy
When your child views everyone as a competitor, everyone is an “enemy,” and those who aren’t enemies today could become enemies tomorrow. Your kid will learn to regard others with suspicion, being unwilling to trust anyone, and even treating others with aggression.
· Empathy Is Non-Existent
Children who can only see others as opponents stop seeing others as people. This results in an inability to see things from the perspectives of others. Studies have shown that competition can decrease generosity, compassion, and empathy towards perceived opponents. In other words, your child will unlearn a lot of the lessons in the kindness they have been taught.
· Communication Isn’t Learned
When teamwork is involved, communication is central and crucial. But if a child seeks only to compete and win, they never communicate with the people around them. This lack of social skills will come back to bite them later.
· Friendships Are Jeopardized
It’s not uncommon for kids to meet their friends at sports events and other extracurricular activities. When the pressure to win is involved, though, it isn’t easy to stay friends with those you’re trying to win against. As children compare themselves to their peers, they lose the friendships they built in favor of turning everyone into an enemy.
5. It Ruins Things They Love
A battlefield is not fun. Turning playgrounds into a warzone is a surefire way to make kids begin to dislike the play they once loved. It stops being recreation and starts being work. They have to practice “defeat” others and get good results, so it becomes another form of school.
Taking away passions like this is extremely harmful to children. They can develop problems building new hobbies due to fear that they will be taken away or avoid joining new activities because they don’t want to lose.
For kids who once poured their heart and soul into the activity in question, having it ruined can be gutting. They might suffer mood drops and decreased positive thinking, a lack of motivation, and a tendency to turn to less healthy habits to fill the gap.
Of course, plenty of kids can achieve a balance between keeping their hobbies, just hobbies and going too far into competitive mode. It’s possible for those who can walk that tightrope to continue loving what you do and participate in competitions without adverse effects. But if winning is all that matters, it’s only a matter of time before interest drops away.
6. It Causes Childhood To Speed By
Children who are forced to try and outdo everyone else often waste away their childhoods. Being young is supposed to be about discovery, exploration, and learning new things. It’s a time to make mistakes, experiment, and take time before settling on things you really want to focus on in the future.
Kids who are forced to excel in multiple areas of their life may end up rushing through their young years, spending all their time practicing or doing work to achieve the goals their parents set for them. It’s unfair for children to be subjected to that kind of pressure, and it robs them of formative experiences.
Interests and passions are things that should be discovered and honed, not thrust upon someone. This is especially true for kids, who would benefit most from experiencing childhood naturally for a more well-adjusted future with positive thinking.
The world can often be very encouraging of competitive behaviors. People are always trying to get on top and stand out from the crowd. While this has its positive sides, it also has ugly facets that kids shouldn’t replicate. As the parent to your child, it is your responsibility to ensure that your kids can avoid that behavior’s most toxic parts.
Competition in itself isn’t a bad thing. It’s actually healthy for a child to participate in a moderate amount of competition. The important things are the values behind that competition. A child whose entire goal is winning and winning alone has values that don’t play well with productive competition.
Instead of teaching your children always to compete and win, teach them how to cooperate. Yes, you can – and should – teach them about the concept of competition. But you should also teach them that their personal best is all that matters. Don’t pit siblings against each other, don’t compare your child to their peers, and don’t provide completely conditional acceptance dependent on their performance.
There aren’t really any easy answers to staying on the thin line between healthy competition and toxic competitiveness. As a parent, you know your child best, and you know how best to teach these lessons to your children. At the end of the day, as long as your kids are happy, you’re doing something right.