7 top tips to help your child cope with competition
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7 top tips to help your child cope with competition

I recently heard of a school that decided to cancel sports day because it was too competitive. I ask you, how crazy is that? Is it possible to protect our children from competition? I suppose we could help them avoid it in many situations, but I don’t believe that it would prepare them very well for life. If we protect our children from competitive activity all the way through school, the minute they come near to leaving school the competition begins. The way they fill in their UCAS forms and the interview for the highly sought after university places is a fight from beginning to end. Then at the end of university, there are the Graduate Selection Programmes. My goodness, I have never seen anything so dog-eat-dog. Life is one big competition and, as such, the best thing we can do is to help our children to handle competition and learn to thrive in life. I am the parent of two children. One is highly competitive and one is not at all competitive. So over my 19 years of parenting, I have learnt some lessons about helping very different children.

Here are what I think are seven top tips to help your child navigate the highly competitive world we live in;
1) Be self aware of your own personality type
2) Understand where your child sits on the competitive spectrum
3) Don’t push your personality type (or your stress) on your child
4) Watch out for the signs of stress in your child
5) Learn to listen to your child
6) Help your child be a good loser
7) Don’t fight your child’s battles for them

1) Be self aware of your own personality type
I am highly competitive. I won’t do a sport unless I think I can win. In some ways it is easier to parent children who are like you. You understand the way they tick. So tip one is be self aware. Are you naturally competitive? Do you do team sports or compete in individual sports or other activities? When you play a game are you determined to win? At school did you study hard because you wanted the best result? Your own position will determine how you naturally parent.

2) Understand where your child sits on the competitive spectrum
Tip two; make a note of where your child sits on the competitive spectrum. At one end they thrive on anything competitive, to the other extreme of shying away from anything competitive. A child’s personality type is developing through their formative years, but you will know pretty early on if they are competitive or not.

3) Don’t push your personality type (or your stress) on your child
So now you are self aware of your own competitive bent, and that of your child. Tip three is a really key tip. Respect their natural position. If they are not at all competitive they might start in a sports or chess team, but as they (the team) get better your child will probably chose to leave after a while. Don’t fight this if you are naturally competitive. I have realised over the years that with my non competitive daughter I may have forced her to stay in teams too long, or made her worry too much about being chosen for the squad, and ‘why was she on the subs bench’? But the fact was she didn’t care, and I needed to respect that and not push my preferences on her.

4) Watch out for the signs of stress in your child
All children get stressed, often at points of pressure for them: Before a test, before a big game, if they’re dropped from the team, rejected by a best friend etc. It is my strong belief that we need to help them where possible cope with this stress. But often they will not talk about their stress, so you have to be on the watch for it, and that is tip four. I have learned with both my children what the triggers for their stress are, and I watch out for these different triggers in them.

5) Learn to listen to your child
Talking is the best way to help your child with their stress. The worst thing is that they bottle it up. So tip five is watch out for the time of the day when your child talks. Is it in the car when you pick them up? Is it at bedtime? Is it at family dinner time? Don’t badger them when they are not ready, but do give them time when you think they are ready. And when you find the small opportunity maximise it, if necessary dropping everything you are doing to listen.

6) Help your child be a good loser
Limit the amount you let tiny children win when you play games with them. In their early years don’t reward (or allow) tantrum type behaviour when they lose, rather encourage them to go back and try again. Encourage them that it was great that their friend won. Tip six; help prepare your child for life by helping them to be a good loser. A skill in life for us all, whether a child or an adult, is to pick ourselves up after a disappointment and fight again.

7) Don’t fight your child’s battles for them
I have close friends who are teachers, and I know one of their pet hates is interfering parents. So tip seven is choose the battles you fight very carefully, and don’t pick a fight very often. If you fight battles too often teachers see it as ‘crying wolf’ and they will not take it seriously.
As your children progress through school, try to give them the tools to fight their own battles. For example, if they feel they have been unfairly treated encourage them to go back and ask questions to understand more about the situation.
Our protective instincts as parents are very strong, and this last tip is not as easy as it sounds. Even last week, I found myself writing (and sending!) an email to a sports coach I probably shouldn’t have. Hey ho. Life is a continual lesson of learning.

We trust you have found some of the above ideas useful.

Yours playfully,

Sandra Bullen

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