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?
My neighbour and I recently started our three-year-olds at occasional care together. I don’t why, but starting Birdy in daycare was a really big deal for me. I was sooo anxious about it I nearly cancelled the whole thing. I suppose you could say I had a bit of separation anxiety.
We were supposed to go down to the daycare centre for a trial the day before Birdy started. In my mind, I secretly hoped that smiling saint-like pre-school teachers would greet us by name at the gate, emanating peace and light and blessed assurance; that Birdy would be instantly drawn into some amazing creative activity and that all my anxieties about leaving my daughter with a total stranger would melt away.
Errr… maybe not. We stayed for about an hour, and the whole time not one staff member spoke to Birdy or tried to engage her in any activity. I think they took the attitude that we were just there to observe. But by the time we left, I was beside myself, thinking, ‘how can I leave my child with people she’s never even met?’ It’s not that I thought Birdy wasn’t ready for daycare. It was more that I wasn’t ready for it. I wasn’t ready to forfeit the luxury of knowing my daughter spends all day every day with somebody who cares deeply about her. Fortunately, my husband convinced me to give it another chance or two.
So the next day I dropped Birdy off with fear and trembling, reminding myself that I was only leaving her for a few hours. Even if she didn’t have close, personal attention for those hours, she would still have her little friend with her. This time the staff were far more attentive and although there were a few tears, overall she coped fairly well. The second week the goodbyes were far more traumatic as the teacher wrestled my thrashing, weeping child off me so I could get out the gate. However, I couldn’t leave her like that. I had to keep going back in and giving her more kisses and cuddles until she was ready to let me go.
Now, five weeks later, I’m so glad I stuck it out. I’ve seen Birdy growing in confidence and in her social skills. I’ve seen her joining in more with other children, showing more maturity and listening to instructions – all skills that will be useful for starting school. Last week, she was actually excited when we arrived, and when I picked her up she was having so much fun she didn’t want to leave.
I think I can safely say that Birdy has settled in at daycare. I actually feel quite proud of her for how well she’s coped. I’m sure it helped that she started at the same time as her little friend. So far, we’re still only doing one half-day a week. We’ll probably add another half-day when Mummy gets used to the idea.
Do you remember how you felt when your child started daycare or pre-school for the first time? Was it a big deal for you? How did your child cope? Do you think there is a ‘right’ age to start? Was there anything you did that helped your child to settle in? Or if your child didn’t settle well, how did you deal with that?
What has happened to me? At the moment I spend about 50% of any given day making inanimate objects talk. It doesn’t matter what activity I do with Birdy, whether it’s play-dough, swimming or playing with dolls, within the first minute or so she will say to me, “Mum, can you make the frog talk? Mum, can you make the penguin sing? Mum, can we be mermaids?”
The first time your child engages in symbolic or imaginative play it’s soooo endearing. I don’t know if you remember the first time your child fed a dolly, or turned a toilet roll into a telescope, but I remember thinking, “Wow, my baby is turning into a real little person.” It was like a whole new world of play was opening up to us.
Now I’m totally over it. The other day, when Birdy was in the paddling pool I spent an entire hour simulating a fictional conversation between a fish and a baby boat. (I was the fish, she was the boat!) At the end of the hour I was exhausted. I was tempted to say, “Let’s go inside and watch TV”, but she would have happily kept playing out the fish/boat drama all afternoon.
The thing is, I know that this kind of imaginative free play is really important to children developmentally. So much so, that some early childhood experts are expressing concerns that kids are spending too much time in structured activities and not enough time in free play. The reason it’s so important is that we now understand that the early childhood years are formative years, in which future abilities for self-expression, problem solving and communication are developed. In play, kids can use their imagination to solve problems, to understand different social roles by acting them out and to learn and practice self-expression. (If you have trouble understanding how kids can learn through play, try this simple exercise. Roleplay your child’s bedtime routine, but you play the child and let your child act as the Mummy or Daddy. You’ll soon get an insight into how your child perceives your parenting role.)
So how can you encourage imaginative play? Here’s a few tips.
– Create a nice play area but don’t have too many toys available at once. Cubby houses and other special places can also encourage children to create their own worlds.
– Limit time spent watching TV, playing computer games and other noisy, flashy, over-stimulating toys in which a child’s interaction is limited to just pressing buttons.
– Spend time telling stories, both from books and from real life.
– Try not to interrupt your child when they are involved in imaginative play.
– Get outside and into nature – sticks, stones, shells and sand can be the best playthings.
– Provide open-ended toys that can be used in more than one way. Like farm sets, tea sets, blocks, train sets, dolls, hand puppets. And try not to correct or limit your child’s interpretation of those toys. (If they say the teacup is a swimming pool, then let it be a swimming pool!)
So, it turns out I’m not wasting my life by spending half my day as a talking fish. There is more at stake. Like, my child’s whole future.
Do your children engage in imaginative play? How have you encouraged them to be creative? What are their favourite scenes or stories to act out? Has there been a particular toy or theme that has captured their imagination?
To make a comment, click on the story title and fill out the form marked “Leave A Reply”.