Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Competitiveness. Good or bad?

A scene two days ago...

It's the Easter holidays. We're visiting the Grandparents. It's a beautiful sunny day (well there was a light spotting of rain, but this IS England and we were trying to ignore it). Anyway we are all in the garden (Grandaprents, 2 sets of parents, 4 grandchildren and a dog). And we're playing a game. A giant game of Snakes and Ladders, complete with an enormous plastic board and an inflatable dice which the dog keeps chasing. Everyone is laughing and smiling. It's the best fun we've had in ages and if you ever get a chance to play it, I highly recommend you give it a go. It beats Twister any day.

So why, just 30 seconds after this magical scene was my elder daughter lying in a crumpled heap on the grass, hyperventilating with tears and threatening (between breaths) to give up on life?
  • Had the dog bitten her? NO
  • Had she slipped over on the lethal plastic mat that formed the Snakes and Ladders board? NO (but it was a close call).
  • Had her sister bitten her? Not this time.
  • Had her cousin threatened to stop being her best friend? NEVER.
  • Had her Mummy or Daddy told her off? Not in this instance.
  • Had she fallen and cut her chin? Whoops, sorry that was a couple of weeks ago.
  • Had her year's supply of chocolate Easter Eggs been taken away? NO, but it's only a matter of time.

So, what could it have possibly been that had caused Renée, my gentle, funny and clever 4 year-old to sob and cry like her whole world had fallen apart?

I'll tell you what it was. Her cousin had thrown the dice, rolled a 4 and skipped past Renée on her way to claiming victory in the inaugural Snakes and Ladders garden Championship. That was all it had taken. Someone else, other than Renée had won.

So I ask you this? If losing a game of Snakes and Ladders can cause a child so much pain and distress, is competitiveness a good thing? (Well she certainly has fire in her belly as my brother quite rightly pointed out). Or is it not the winning that matters, but the taking part? And if so, how do I stop this from happening every time my child fails to finish in the top spot? Help me please. I can't take another second-place.

But just before I go, I want to give a quick mention to the Mummy Bloggers Carnival which highlights the best posts from...you've guessed it...the Mummy bloggers...from the last few weeks. There are some hysterical, poignant and uplifting stories. So click here and have a read. You won't be disappointed.


  1. I'm afraid my eldest daughter used to do this when she was about the same age, and I used to say "Life's not fair, get used to it." My response may seem a little harsh, but what else can you do? She had to learn she couldn't come first at everything.

  2. Dammit!
    notSupermum got in first! It's not fair!!

    And by the way, shouldn't that be "elder"?

    A. Stickler

  3. It's just a phase. Two of mine used to flick the board over and scatter all the pieces. At this tender age, they'd be a bit weird if they graciously accepted loss and moved on!

  4. NotSupermum - You're right. She definitely has to learn. Not quite sure I can bring myself to tell her she should get used to it when her little heart is breaking (although I know it's the right thing to do)!!! I'm too soft...

    Freddo - hmm...elder instead of eldest?? I shall look into it...

    Expat Mum - I'm sure you're right, although she was soooo over the top that she definitely has the competitive streak in her. One of the other cousins lost (same age) and she happily carried on without a second thought...

  5. Thankfully, this too will pass.

    You only need worry if it's still happening when she's 30,


  6. I think there's two ways of looking at this; competing is important otherwise the child may never reach their goal in life but at the same time, it's supposed to be the taking part that's the important bit rather than the winning.  I think different places/surroundings mean different opinions.  Amy cries if she isn't first in a race - and she's 9!CJ xx

  7. Learning to loose, that's what it's all about. My boy was terrible at this. Now he has to learn how to win as he get's really cocky!

  8. My youngest two have always been competitive in everything they do, (being only a year between them),the constant bickering, arguing and fighting...It's enough to drive a saint mad!

    It's probably something to do with too many vitamins and not enough lard!

  9. I think being competitive is really useful trait. It makes you reach for the stars and, more often than not, excel in all you do. Renee is surely destined for greatness!

    I, on the other hand, just have not got the energy to compete in anything. Whenever a tussle rears it's head, I just walk away from it. Can. Not. Be. Bothered. But maybe that's where I've been going wrong all these years??!

    Think she will either get used to the reality in life of coming second/third/fourth - or ensure she's always the winner. Enjoy the show!

  10. Not Waving - I'm not sure it will pass. I think the competitive streak is buried deep inside. Maybe I'll just have to teach her how to keep it under control instead!

    CJ - Oh dear! So I have to wait until she's older than 9 for the crying to stop. I may as well give up now!

    Reasons - yep I think I need to teach her this. All part of growing up I suppose.

    RM - I have some lard in the fridge. Thanks for the tip. I'll make sure it's spread thickly on the toast in the morning!

    Mama Po - you're such a sweetie. Yes, I too am totally uncompetitive (although those who know me may refute that a tad). But I always think there's someone out there who wants it more than me...so let them have it! Not a great recipe for success... And as for Renée - yes I will enjoy the show - I couldn't help laughing when she was in hysterics (as awful as that sounds). The fact that she was so distraught over a board game was highly amusing. Poor sausage!

  11. I used to cry when I lost a game, and I still do. I HATE LOSING.

  12. I'm sure she'll grow out of it.
    I remember going to a party and throwing a hissy fit because I thought I got a boys prize in the pass the parcel....so they quickly gave me something else to shut me up and then when I stopped crying I saw the lovely prize that I had given up....and had another hissy fit!

  13. DM09 - you do make me laugh. Every time.

    Magnumlady - I hope she will! It's too embarrassing for me otherwise!

  14. I think all of mine have been through this stage (well not littlest, she still thinks the world revolves around her... ooh it does) and the heartbreak at not always being able to win does subside, dont think any of them have been marred for life :) good luck luv Karen x

  15. Four quite often thinks the sky is falling if she doesn't win. I am hoping it's a phase. Occasionally she can let a loss slip by but only if it is immediately shored up by a follow up victory.
    I remember being the same and although I am better now that I am fully grown I do feel very annoyed if beaten at Scrabble (Rare occurrence. Oh no, see I have to mention it. It's all my fault.)

  16. Golly, my husband is a bit like that still and he's over 50! No, seriously - she's only 4, I'm sure that's normal!

  17. I'm in agreement with the other comments - it is, tragically, quite normal. Somehow she's got to come to terms with losing (and second isn't bad ... unless there are only two in the race, I s'pose!)

    I have been brought up to follow Yorkshire Country Cricket. I am quite used to losing ...

  18. MGM - Thanks! Yeah I'm sure (??) she'll grow out of it. It's just shocking when it happens.

    Mothership - Ha ha. So I won't challenge you to a game of Scrabble then. Anyway, I'm crap. I try to make up words and hope no one will notice! Backgammon??

    Sparx - Oh well, at least she's got a few years to go yet. I just have to reign her in a little bit.

    Catharine - ok, so I'll get her to follow a team who loses all the time...good thinking!

  19. I think your daughter has got it right for a four year old. Competitiveness good, second place bad. Life is a competition so you need to learn to fight to achieve, but we can't always win, so you need to learn to be gracious in defeat. She'll get there!

  20. My two boys don't have a hope. Their parents are FAR TOO competitive to ever escape the competitive gene. We nearly got divorced on honeymoon when we played backgammon and I blew a 64 point advantage on a foolish double - or two. It still hurts. I'm still sulking.

    Learning to be gracious in defeat is hard. It's like learning to share. Everyone has to do it eventually. I'm not sure I've learnt how to yet. But I really hope my boys do.

  21. Working Mum - Thanks. Yes, to her life is definitely a competition! The only way I can get her upstairs to go to bed in the evening is to say 'Who can get there first'!!

    Brit in Bosnia - Ha ha. Yes that sounds like me actually. I just love Backgammon. My favourite game...And yes, she's just about learnt to share. Learning to lose will be next.

  22. Our youngest dries if she doesn't get the train stations and utilities in Monopoly, we all give in and she always wins..she's 5!

  23. I feel a bit bashful about offering advice, seeing as how I don't have kids but my lovely old boss had a son who was a very bad loser. My ex-boss's technique was to keep beating him at things and make him stop obsessing about being the winner. After endless times of being the 'loser', this young lad was able to stop crying each time.

  24. Frog in the Field - Ooh I'm very impressed you even play Monopoly with your 5 year old. We're far less advanced. Snakes and Ladders is our most intellectual game and after this episode it might get the chop!!

    French Fancy - No need to feel bashful. Any advice is very welcome! Sounds like good advice too. Might just have to take it. Maybe I won't give Snakes and Ladders the chop after all!

  25. I remember upending a chess board as a (must have been about 5 or 6)kid, when my friend won. There's a photo taken of us just before, both looking incredibly serious, and then I ruined it all by throwing a juvenile tantrum.

    Actually, I did something similar at university over a game of monopoly - just stomped out of living room and went and hid in my room, but tantrum nonetheless - so maybe we don't all grow out of it!

    Rosemary is at the age at the moment where she changes the rules if she's not winning.

  26. Tasha - Hilarious. Although it probably wasn't at the time! And yes, Renée changes the rules too. I think that will be my first step - get her to play by the real rules!!

  27. One more thing - Freddo (or A Stickler!!) - I have changed eldest to elder. Took me a while to check... And just in case anyone else didn't know - elder for two, eldest for more than two. Good to know...

  28. Here is a link to an old post that happened on my blog a while back on the subject of competitive games vs. cooperative games.


    I am a huge advocate for cooperative games particularly in the younger years. It is a lot funner to work together towards a common goal than to end up with winners and losers at the end. It is also how I expect my children to behave within our family so it makes sense to me to have that reflected in our game choices. There are so many great games out there now. A favorite of our is Wildcraft, which teaches all about the uses of herbs while playing the game. My kids love it.

  29. Hello Little Travelers - Thanks so much for that. I will come and have a look right now. Yes, I think my daughter could benefit from this! (Or at least I could)!!

  30. It's a learning curve. Sometimes when you play with a child, you can fix it so they win - but I always do this openly, and make a joke of it, so we both know we're cheating (and my daughter has taken to fixing it so I win, or so it's a dead heat, which is really sweet).

    I think the competitive nature will out, whatever you do, and whether you think it's a good thing or a bad thing (I guess that largely depends on your own nature). What we need to do as parents is to help the child understand it and use it appropriately, and deal with the emotions. Of course it stands them in good stead, as well as making life difficult from time to time.

  31. Iota - Bless you for having a good old catch up on the posts!! Very sweet of your daughter to fix it so you win - think I may have to instigate that! And yes, you're right. It can be good or bad depending on how you view it yourself and how you choose to channel it. Good comment x