If you’re reading this because based on the title you think this article will teach you how to make sure your child gets first place all the time, I’m going to let you off the hook early. This isn’t that article. When it comes to life, especially my children’s lives, I take the long view. I want my kids to win in life and the surest path to long-term success isn’t necessarily lined with blue ribbons and first place trophies. So, if you want parenting advice on how to help your child be successful in life, read on. If you want your child to get first place in this year’s spelling bee, you’ll have to look elsewhere.
One more caveat. This advice is based on my own parenting style and opinions. No two people are alike so you may disagree with me on some points (or maybe all of them). I hope that my advice will give you some points to consider, but if you choose not to act on all of them it doesn’t make you a bad parent. In fact, carefully considering how you parent and what advice you take and implement makes you an amazing and caring parent in my opinion.
Enroll Your Child in Individual Competitive Events
Avoidance of competition will not teach your child to develop the attitude of achieving success. Likewise, team activities can be a lot of fun and build confidence in a lot of ways, but they won’t test your child’s character the way individual competition will. In team activities, losses are shared so one can deny responsibility for the failure. In an individual event, only one person is responsible for a loss so that person is forced to assess what went wrong.
I want my kids to develop a habit of physical fitness to carry into adulthood so I encourage them to participate in individual sports (e.g. wrestling, gymnastics, and martial arts). I also want them to be well-rounded so in addition, I encourage them to enter essay contests, art competitions, and spelling bees and run for class office. There are plenty of opportunities for kids to compete as an individual outside of sports so look for them in the areas your child shows interest.
Teach Your Child That Losing Doesn’t Make You a Loser
When someone, child or adult, loses in a challenge of any sort it’s natural to feel disappointed in oneself and upset over the failure to reach a goal. It’s not the loss itself, but what someone does to process those feelings that defines who they are though. Think about it, do you have a better impression of someone who wins and gloats about it or someone who loses and then congratulates the winner, encourages others, and works hard to improve for the next match?
Whether your child wins or loses, address how he or she behaves AFTER the match. Losses are actually the best opportunity to help your child succeed in the long-term because they challenge the child’s character more and provide actionable steps that can be taken to improve. It’s harder to point out to a child who just won what he or she needs to work on to improve. For anyone though, it’s helpful to focus on competing against yourself. As a runner, I don’t expect to win every race I compete in, but I do try to improve my own best times.
To me, a loser is someone who lacks the drive and skills to achieve anything of worth. In my mind, it’s a person who sits on the couch watching television all day while the house is in disarray, bills go unpaid, and no effort is made to better oneself or society.
Help Your Child Develop Action Plans and Goals
Kids are easily redirected, which is why it’s a popular conflict management technique in classrooms. But a child needs to be redirected. This is where you can make the biggest impact on your child’s attitude towards competition and approach to challenges. Once you’ve allowed your child some time to process the results of a win or loss, refocus him or her from the result to the next competition.
If your child was the winner, emphasize good sportsmanship, possible areas for further improvement, or a new challenge. If your child didn’t win, help him or her determine the cause(s) and develop a plan to improve. Recently my daughter failed to break the board during her martial arts belt testing. Her technique was good, but she was stopping her kick at the board, rather than kicking through it. So, the next day my husband scored some boards for her so they would break more easily and to help her understand the concept of kicking through the board.
Again, set goals for your child that focus on improving his or her personal scores or results. Depending on who else shows up at the next competition, your child might perform much better but lose anyway. Prepare your child to celebrate the success of getting better by setting a goal in advance that isn’t tied to where he or she places, but instead on how he or she performs.
Model the Behavior
This advice applies to all areas of parenting. No matter what you say, your kids will end up doing what you do. If you tell them that occasional losses are okay and that long-term improvement is what matters, but then completely fall apart when you slip on your diet and gain a pound or two your child won’t take your advice seriously. Worse yet, your child will think you’re insincere when you are giving your pep talk and it will undermine his or her confidence.
We all want our children to grow up to live happy, successful lives. These are the things I feel are important in helping them get there. I hope they give you some ideas to consider. I’d also love to hear your advice and experience so please share them in the comments.