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Competitiveness in Kids

Just How Much Competitiveness Should We Encourage in Our Kids?

I guess I shouldn't be surprised that my 5-year-old daughter is intensely competitive. Her dad adopted a mantra of "other people's successes are not my failures" after years of torturing himself over every perceived loss. And me, well, there's a famous story in my family about how, at age 7 or 8, I received my standardized testing scores and saw I was ranked in the 97th percentile in one category. I asked my mom what that meant. "Well, out of 100 kids, only three scored better than you," she told me. "Who are they?" I replied, dead serious.

I began noticing that my daughter had inherited her parents' competitive spirits right around the time we started playing simple games with her a few years ago. I'm not a believer in letting kids win every game, every time, but that stance was made harder in practice when every single time she lost to her dad or me, she threw a huge temper tantrum. Game over. To this day, she still cheats at tic-tac-toe when she foresees a loss. We laugh, but is it really funny?

Of course, I've tried to explain to her that being a gracious loser is part of good sportsmanship and simple good manners. We should be happy for the victories of our friends and family members, even when it means we didn't win. I've tried to teach her that we all can't be the best at everything and that the fun should be in playing a game or learning something new, not in always winning or having the highest score. I don't think she's getting the picture.

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Last week, she brought home a reading log from her kindergarten class. We record books we read each night, give them a thumbs up or down, and when the log is full, we return it to her teacher, who rewards her with a trip to the class "smiley bucket" and she gets to pick a small prize. Innocuous enough, right?

The first day, we wrote down the three books we read before bed, and she went off to school the next day, only to get off the bus in tears. "Oscar finished his reading log before me!" she cried. "You're telling me a kid in your class read 12 books in one afternoon?" I replied, silently cursing Oscar's parents, whom I'd never met and now had no desire to. "I don't believe it." "Yes, he did! He's a much better reader than me," she yelled, running up to her room to grab nine books, which she forced me to read to her immediately so she could finish her log, too.

I did it, because one, her brother was still napping, so I had the time, and two, because f*ck Oscar and his bookworm parents. We love reading in our house, too, and we'll prove it. You see the problem here, right?

I know I'm not the only parent of a little kid who's dealing with this struggle. In fact, one of the other kindergarten classes imposed a two-book-a-night limit on their log because things we're getting out of control. No such limit has come from my daughter's class, and we're on log four less than a week into this whole experiment.

I don't want to knock all the competitiveness out of my daughter. I actually think the trait has served both her father and me quite well. But I also don't want her to be in misery every time she comes up second (or third or fourth or 40th) best, so we'll keep working on being a good sport, on enjoying the journey, not the prize you might win at the destination. Still, we're crushing the kindergarten reading competition – I mean, log. Oscar can suck it.

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