Last week I wrote about getting kids active and in my weekly chat with Aaron and Erin on Hope Breakfast, we touched on another topic that I thought we should explore a little more – winning. Well, winning and losing really, because you can’t have one without the other.
In our conversation, Erin touched on the fact that we’ve stopped letting kids lose. We want to protect them from any kind of disappointment in life and I’m not sure that does them any favours. We hear a lot about resilience – resilience is the ability to bounce back after adversity – but it’s hard to develop resilience in a culture where everybody wins a prize.
I was at a kid’s birthday party last weekend, (actually I’m at a kid’s birthday party pretty much every weekend), and they had the obligatory game of Pass the Parcel. When we were kids, – if you were lucky enough to get a party and a cake and a Pass the Parcel then you’d struck gold already – there was usually only one big prize at the end of the parcel. There may have been a few lollipops scattered through the layers, but they were usually those awful green ones that nobody likes. And it certainly wasn’t expected that every layer would contain a prize. These days, every child has to win, and all the prizes have to be the same so that nobody thinks their prize is worse than anybody else’s. A few years ago, at Birdy’s 3rd birthday we did a pass the parcel and we left some layers empty. I warned the kids, “Not every layer will have a present,” but everybody was talking about it as though we’d served up brussell sprouts instead of fairy bread.
I think is important to give kids lots of practice at both losing and winning. We are all going to experience both in life. When we apply for a job, not everybody will get the job. When we want to win over a love interest, they may decide they prefer somebody else. We may not get into the course we wanted to at TAFE or Uni. So losing and missing out are inevitable at some stage. But how we deal with winning and losing really comes down to how we manage our expectations.
It’s been interesting to reflect on this during the Olympics. If an athlete wins a silver medal, when they were expected to win gold, the story will be, “Seebhom has missed out on the gold medal…” There’s also been lots of talk about the Mens Four, who were acting like silver medal was worse than a kick in the head. Whereas for an athelete who wasn’t expected to win, the headline would be, “So and so has taken out a silver medal”, like it’s a great triumph, which it is. So how we perceive winning and losing is all about our expectations. I don’t think we should let our kids win all the time. If every time you play a card game you let your kids win, you’re creating unrealistic expectations and they’ll be devastated when they don’t win. On the other hand, if they lose all the time, they’ll become discouraged and won’t want to play. The way to manage this without rigging every game is to make sure that what you’re playing is on the right level for your children, so they can win sometimes. For small kids, a game of chance may be fairer, or a game that combines elements of skill and chance, otherwise the youngest sibling in the family is never going to win anything.
Having said that, it’s not healthy for little kids to feel like their performance is being judged all the time. After all, they are only learning (everything!) so they shouldn’t be expected to perform to a certain standard, or to always be compared to their siblings or peers. It’s helpful to have other goals besides winning. If you play a sport and your only goal is to win, then you are going to be disappointed. You need to have other achievable goals so that when you don’t win, you can still be proud of what you’ve achieved. I’m a writer, and for every manuscript that gets accepted I would probably get 30 rejections. If I felt that every rejection was a failure, then I wouldn’t bother trying. So when I first started sending out my stories, I would consider my submission successful if I got a personal letter back with some positive feedback. At least that publisher thought my work had enough merit to want to offer some encouragement.
So while there’s nothing wrong with wanting to win, encourage your kids to have other goals as well. “I want to improve on my best time.” Or “I want to pass my maths exam.” If we can help them set some goals that are realistic, then winning doesn’t have to be the be all and end all.
Are your kids naturally competitive? Do they get upset when they lose? Should children be protected from the whole concept of winning and losing while they’re little? How do you strike a balance between playing for fun and enjoying the achievement of winning?