Game On: Why Preschools Are Reevaluating Competition

Game On: Why Preschools Are Reevaluating Competition

Parenting Early Years magazine April 2012How do you strike that seemingly impossible balance between constructive competition and an “everyone always wins” approach with your preschooler?

I’ll admit it: I’m competitive. Not in a my-child-is-smarter-than-yours kind of way–I just like to win. I’m afraid I’ve fostered this aggressive spirit in my preschoolers as well. If I’m having trouble motivating them to do something, all I have to do is turn it into a race. Who can put on their shoes the fastest? Who can finish their milk first? Who can get to the bathtub before anyone else?

I’ve wondered before if we should tone down the competition in our house, especially in this generation of kids who are being raised in an environment where everyone’s a winner. (My husband still thinks it’s funny that everyone gets a trophy at the end of every soccer season, no matter what.)

An article in the April issue of Parenting Early Years magazine asked the same question: Is competition so bad for our kids that we should nix it altogether? A few experts weighed in, and here’s how they viewed competition:

Child’s Play: Games that rely on nothing but luck–like duck, duck goose and musical chairs–don’t teach children anything and can easily be taken out of preschool without being missed, concludes Kathleen Burriss, Ed.D., professor of elementary education at Middle Tennessee State University.

Life lessons: I was pleased to read that one child psychologist quoted in the article thought the idea of eliminating all competition was a bad one because it teaches children that life always goes their way, which any parents knows is a dangerous idea for a child. “Competitive games, when supervised, help develop impulse control and coping skills when things go badly,” says Rahil Briggs, Psy.D., a child psychologist at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, N.Y.

Pick and Choose: Like most good parenting advice, the best solution seems to be about finding a happy medium. Making everything a competition might breed unnecessary aggression, but always letting Suzy win as a child won’t do her any good in the long run. The article suggests playing childhood favorites like Candy Land, but instead of stopping after the first person wins, letting everyone finish. It keeps everyone in the game and teaches the value of perseverance.