Warrior or Worrier?
Know Your Child’s Competitive Style
Speaker: Po Bronson, journalist and author
I recently went to this conference, one of the many interesting ones that The Common Ground Speaker Series organize in the Peninsula. Another key aspect of education was highlighed: how to deal with competition.
Is competition dangerous for our kids?
How stress and pressure are related to competition?
On one side there are no doubts at all: stress is NOT good for kids. They still don’t have the experience to deal with it. For sure they will have to learn this skill but at elementary age they don’t have enough resources to survive to strong stress and pressure.
They have to learn how to collaborate with the others, not just compete.
If comparing themselves to the other peers is not a good behaviour itself, it could turn to be a good social skill in the future. Trying to be part of a group, and even sometimes trying to look like other peers could develop the ability to come to compromises with partners, friends and parents in the adulthood. Who relies just on his personal desires and ideas is much more alone in the future. Sometimes who is even too much leader and concentrated on his own ideas since childhood could become an adult without many friends, with romantic problems and socially isolated. He could be great at work but life is not just this.
Peer pressure and social comparison could be useful, then. Integration ability and collaboration skills are good assets for an healthy growth.
It’s very important, though, to soon recognize our kid’s distress. When competition becomes not really socially relevant it’s the time to turn it down and let the kid recover from stress and pressure.
We have to teach our kids healthy competitive skills.
It’s better to have fair competition, that could be a stimulus to do better, because if you always compare yourself with the top that could be struggling.
Genetics is also involved. Someone achieves better results under pressure, someone needs to stay in a relax environment to do his best. There are warriers and worriers. We should understand who our child is in order to protect him better and to let him succeed.
But long-term stress is harmful for everybody no matter genotype he has.
There are useful competitive systems even when the kid is young the can teach him healthy competitive skills: sports team are the best. They usually don’t focus just on the result but also on social skills and team building. Collaboration is the best skill a child can learn. Math teams, chess clubs, science fair are also very good and safe activities. There is pressure especially if they have to prepare a final presentation, but they get there through preparation and interaction with other peers. It’s not just making the SAT test, where they just the final result is relevant.
It’s like switching from a “threat state” to a “challange state”. It’s something that could be learnt day by day: to focus on a goal without being blocked by fear.
The human body uses the same hormone, the testosterone, for competition and collaboration: the better you work with the others the better you compete!
There is an interesting difference between girls and boys. Girls around 4-5 years old play just for the 16% of their time in groups, while boys the 70%. Girls generally prefer to play in pairs. But group play is very educative, it allows to learn the ability to be listened and to solve conflicts. Playing in pairs is much more polite and comfortable, though, because it let minimize differences and take terms. Girls are often more afraid of this comparisons and they tend to be more severe with themselves comparing always with the best. This could bring lot of frustration and distress.
Kids need to learn to lose. As soon as they are used to that the will be free to take risks that bring them to accomplish something very important.
Dealing with stress is a daily training. It takes some year to learn that. And they never have to forget that motivation drives every single action.
Happiness is just a momentary feeling, it’s much better to be fulfilled. As parents we must support our kids in the accomplishment of their goals paying attention that they have time to recover from pressure and letting them negotiate with us as much as possible. This can help them to develop negotiation skills and to assert their personality. We need to listen to them not just saying “no” but when they use the right arguments we have to come to a compromise with them. In this way they grow their self-confidence and goal-oriented attitudes.