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Last week was Sports Day at my daughter’s school. She was part of the Yellow House. She had to wear yellow and race for points. The Yellow house won. I was really pleased for my daughter because last year the green house won. In fact, when the winning house was announced last year, many little faces turned sour. There were many tears and tantrums and children were bitter because they had lost.

This was not right! I wanted to tell the children “It’s okay to lose”.

A few months later I began noticing that my child was also becoming more and more competitive. As a mother this was a first for me. I really wasn’t sure what to do or what to say to help my daughter understand that she did not have to come first in everything.

My daughter wanted to win the daily maths knockouts. She wanted to get an assembly award every week. She started to come home upset when she only got 9 out of 10 in her spelling. My child felt sad when she lost a board game. In her mind she had to win everything. The world was black or white, win or lose, there was no middle ground.

Despite this new challenge, competition was becoming increasingly problematic for my daughter and something had to be done to help her understand and learn that it’s okay to lose.

Teaching my daughter to compete in a healthy way has been a learning curve for both me and my child. She has now mastered a healthy attitude and is able to have joy in her successes. She does not get upset when she loses. She accepts it gracefully as she knows it is not possible to be the best at everything, all the time. No one is perfect.

With this in mind, I am sharing some tips on how to teach your child about healthy competition and that it’s okay to lose.

Teach children that everyone is different.

As parents we can teach young children that everyone is different and unique. We can talk with our children about the fact each child has talents. Sarah may be fast at running, whilst Joe is good at drawing. John may be good at counting but not so good at writing. Emma might be great at swimming but not as good at singing.

As a child begins to understand they have different talents, strengths and weaknesses they will then be ready to learn that they cant possibly be the best at everything and that it is okay to do better in one subject or talent than another.

Teach children that it is okay to lose

Losing is never fun. From a young age children pick up that winning is the best result. As parents it is important to teach our children that it’s okay to lose. We can talk to children about the importance of everyone having a chance to win. We can teach our children to be happy for their friends when a friend wins.

I asked my child how she would feel if she lost every single time. She said she would be really sad. I explained to her that we all need turns to win which helps us feel happy but we can also be happy when a friend wins as we can feel happy for them.

(This really was a turning point in my daughter’s understanding. She still wants to win but if she does not, she is now able to say, well at least my friend won and that is nice for them)

Teach children that achieving and winning requires hard work.

As parents we can teach our children that in order to be good at something we have to practice. If my daughter wants to get a high score in her spelling then we have to practice the words everyday. I have put a lot of effort into teaching my child that it’s okay to be “just good” and to get average results in school and sports. However she also knows that if she wants to do “better” she needs to put in the effort.

I teach my child that in everything we do, there is “good, better and best”. Whilst it is important to try our best, we can be happy when we simply do better than last time or get a good or average score. We can teach children to aim to be their best possible self but to remain happy even if they haven’t improved in the way they would have liked to.

The “good, better, best” principle can really help in any of life’s situations, not just when we compete but also in all we choose to do. This is the case for both adults and children. We can celebrate the good in our lives, our good achievements and teach children that just because we did not win or get the perfect result, it does not make us as individuals worth any less.

Teach children to have fun.

Often times it can be easy to forget the fun of learning, playing and competing when one only focuses upon the end result or upon winning the game or getting the top score.

We can teach our children to be good sports and to enjoy participating in a game or activity without getting caught up in the competitive side. Of course it is important to try to win a race or to win, a board game however it is not the end of the world if we do not win.

I talk to my child and remind her that playing games with mum and dad is about spending time together and having fun. It’s not just about winning. My daughter likes to play Uno. She likes to keep the score and of course she feels disappointed when she has tried hard to win and does not. In this scenario I use a “redirection technique”. I re-direct her focus on the fact we had fun together and that we can play again another day rather than on the fact she lost.

As children grow older they will be exposed to more and more competition. It is important that we teach our children to learn to “bounce back” from losses, to experience loss in a positive way and to keep on going even when they don’t achieve the desired outcome.

Teach children that not everything is a competition. Teach the importance of team work and working together to achieve.

We can teach our children to work together as a team to set goals and participate in activities which bring us together as a team. A good example can be found in recycling. As a family we collect our waste paper in a bucket and weigh it at the end of the week. We put the results on a chart and then pop it in the recycling bin. This is a fun activity which promotes working together as a team rather than working against each other to see who can collect the most paper.

Teaching our children to work together is an important principle. We could use co-operative games or create activities in the home. Most importantly we can lead by example. Rather than competing against one another my husband and I try to work together to achieve our goals and we demonstrate this to our child. We set family goals and celebrate with joint rewards.

By teaching children now to be resilient, we can prepare them for adult life in the future. Our children can learn to compete for fun and learn how to bounce back from life’s failures and disappointments.

We can talk to our children about competition. We can teach by example and show our kids that losing a game or failing a test is not the end all and be all. Losing is simply a chance to try again and a chance to become more successful.

I believe that parenting is the most important role in life. Raising emotionally healthy children in so very important for the future generation and by teaching our children the above principles we can help them to navigate the obstacles of life and they will learn to compete in healthy ways throughout their lives.

Angela Milnes