The moment I opened the gate to the backyard I knew I was in trouble. My three older children took off in search of their eggs and the gloves came off. The 13-year-old, who loves to antagonize his little brother, shouted and laughed maniacally, “I’m going to get them all.” AD, the six-year-old, screamed his brother’s name. My nearly five-year-old daughter didn’t say a word, but she was scouring the ground for eggs. Our yearly tradition felt less like a celebration and more like a battle. My repeated cries of “it’s just for fun” and “it’s not a competition,” fell on deaf ears.
Whether I like it or not, competitiveness seems to be ingrained in all of us. At two or three, a child may be happy just playing the game, but often by the time that child reaches five or six-years-old the concept of winning and losing is quite clear. When my 13-year-old first started playing t-ball at age four, we didn’t keep score. The league was really good about not focusing on winning or losing. They were trying to teach the game and allow the children to have some fun. But, the first thing he would ask was, “did we win?” He always knew how many runs we had versus the other team. There was no scoreboard, but he was keeping score all the same.
AD is also fully aware of what it means to win and lose. A few weeks ago we went to Bingo Night at his school. I thought it would be a fun family activity – a way to support the school. But, AD had a different idea. He was there to win. Every time a number was called that he didn’t have on his sheet, he would groan. His reaction when someone else called out bingo was comical the first time, and outright ridiculous by the fourth game. He was genuinely upset that he wasn’t winning. We kept telling him we were just playing for fun. We told him it didn’t matter who won or lost. But, that was a hard sell when the winners were walking away with digital cameras and razor scooters.
Growing up we are told to be the best student, the best listener, the best athlete, the best friend, the best leader, etc. Being competitive is the foundation of America. It’s why students receive rankings in school. It’s why scores are kept at games. It’s why the college you get into is so important. It’s why parents are concerned with the amount of homework a child is receiving, or when his or her child is going to start walking, talking, and reading.
Raising a child that wants to be successful is an admirable goal. But, we need to be aware of the pressure we place on our children. We don’t need to push them to be the best at everything, since competitiveness seems to happen naturally. We also need to set a good example when we are playing a game or simply on the sidelines (keep it positive and keep it clean). On the other hand, I don’t think banning musical chairs or eliminating keeping score at all sports is the answer either. This just sends a mixed message later in life. It’s hypocritical to say, winning doesn’t matter when they are little, but then expect our children to compete for a merit scholarship and run for student government when they are older.
How can a child who doesn’t learn how to win and lose with grace at a friendly game of Candy Land or Trouble, ever realize the importance of winning and losing with grace later in life? And how can a child who never loses understand that life will go on and it’s okay? If you believe that winning isn’t important, then you won’t be afraid to let them both win and lose once in a while.
So, did I get upset that the egg hunt was a less than perfect example of good sportsmanship? No. Because I know that one day my children will learn that winning isn’t everything and they will also learn, perhaps through some tears, that it’s okay to lose once in a while, even at an egg hunt.
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