Lately I’ve encountered some experiences with my kids that raise some questions about competition, not only among children but me as a parent as well. It’s a little awkward given that my kids are four and one year olds respectively. The awkward part for me is watching my kids compete against each other. But I’ve also experienced instances where other parents kick up my competitive spirit. For example, I watched my twin girls scrap over a toy the other day. Part of me was unhappy to see one of them take from the other and I didn’t like them screeching over a toy. But part of me was happy to see them being assertive in going after what they wanted. We’ll teach them the importance of sharing but I like the “get after it” thinking, which is good right? I think so.
Recently my four-year old started another swimming class. She spent her first session with the instructors assessing children’s skills to place them in the group with appropriate skill level;low, medium and high. The young staff (just graduating high school) gave very brief instructions and it led to a little confusion. Most of the kids followed the directions but one parent in particular made it a point to give constant direction to their poor child. I could hear her yelling “(name), kick your legs, swim harder, or they’ll put you in the low group”. The child was a bit shy and turtled up (as many four-year olds do) which frustrated the parent even more. I sensed the parent feeling embarrassed that the child wasn’t doing well and kept nagging him until he cried. The child, like our own, was capable of swimming well but didn’t, due to the young instructors’ lack of guidance and some shyness. A nice comment to the instructors gave our child the opportunity to have fun and be challenged a little more. All was good. The next day the mother made sure the child was in the “upper” class though was with him in the water helping him the whole time. I felt some odd questions bubbling up in my head. Was it that important to have her child in the more skilled class even though she had to be a helicopter parent? Were the children assessed correctly (my child is in the middle level)? Why the hell did I care so much? After some thought I came to a few conclusions. First, petty as it sounds, I did care and still do a bit. If I have to hover over my child to participate in something, I don’t expect them to be placed in the upper level anything. Even a swim class that’s more about fun and learning. I probably wouldn’t feel this way if I hadn’t of overheard the lady saying what she did but it got me thinking a bit. I’m not the type of parent that expects my kids to try and show up others or anything, but I want them to do well in everything she does. I realize that whether it’s the babies or their older sister there will always be some sort of competition, sports, school, etc.
Competition is a good thing and teaches us so much about life. But I hope to be the parent that brings out the best in my kids not the worse through that competition. There will be plenty of pressures to be the top of the class or the fastest on the field in a couple of years and I’ll be right there with her teaching her how to improve in whatever she does. But in the really early years (less than five) its about applying themselves a little bit and having lots of fun (research shows this). That’s my take. More to come on this topic.
- Parents Need to Relax. Even the ‘Tiger Mother’ Thinks So. (theatlantic.com)
- Children and Competition (North Carolina State University)