In early development, children seek a sense of mastery in their skills and as they grow, they begin to discriminate their own unique skills and to challenge themselves. As they begin to compare themselves with their siblings and peers, the platform for competition is created. This occurs within the context of the child’s temperament, with some kids being more naturally competitive than others. This is further influenced by the beliefs and values parents bring to their own parenting style.
One of the first skills your child learned was physical mastery, first sitting then crawling, and eventually walking. At each stage, she delighted in her mastery of motor acquisition, all the while managing her internal emotions. Curiosity, initiation, excitement, perseverance, frustration, and then mastery! All of these lead to a sense of pride that was woven into her “sense-of-self” and growing autonomy in the world.
Your child’s learning to self-calm around the swirl of his own big emotions is key to managing when things don’t go his way. Supporting your child through small disappointments builds his emotional resiliency, which sets the stage for his future ability to cope with loss when competing, whether against himself or others.
Facilitating your child to explore a range of interests will allow her to experience that being good at some things and not at others is challenging and normal. Taking part in a variety of activities reduces the likelihood of your child feeling that her identity is linked to a singular skill-set.
Engaging your child in group experiences allows him to see that his role is interconnected to others. He will see the range of emotions that his peers experience and develop empathy. This means that when your child “wins”, he will simultaneously be sensitive to how his peers on the losing team are feeling. Empathy leads to good sportsmanship and leadership.
Perhaps most of all, your child will benefit from a robust sense of positive connection with others that is not tethered to “winning”. A sense of unconditional belonging underlies a positive sense-of-self, which means that “losing” will not feel catastrophic. Not only is she resilient, your child will be able to support others to be successful and celebrate their “wins”, as well as her own.