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Thread: Secular Scruples Poll #2: Raising a competitive child

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    Default Secular Scruples Poll #2: Raising a competitive child

    Should a parent cultivate a competitive streak in a child?

    a) Yes
    b) No
    c) Other (please explain)

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    To me that is kind of a leading question. I'm going with other.

    I feel the competitive instinct is natural, and when given a healthy outlet, beneficial.

    On the other hand - MOST kids have their own, as I said, inborn competitive streak. You don't typically need to cultivate it and that can sometimes lead to the violent or extreme examples we see. Given a healthy and appropriate outlet, though, I have no problem with it.

    So, a very long-winded, in most cases no (no need to cultivate) but for a very few kids it might not be such a bad thing.

    But if the question were, "Do you need to discourage a competitive streak?" I guess I would question your definition of a competitive streak. Unless it were excessive or spiteful or harmful, my answer again would be no.
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    C. I believe that some kids are competitive by nature, so no need to nurture it, and there is no way to squash it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Suja View Post
    C. I believe that some kids are competitive by nature, so no need to nurture it, and there is no way to squash it.
    I love how you said basically the same exact thing, only in 1/10 the space.
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    Well, I missed the part about how it may have to be channeled, but you had already covered that, so I didn't feel like adding it.

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    Mandy, there's no value judgment implied in "competitive streak", at least in my mind (so no intent to lead with choice of words). I define it as an inner drive to want to excel beyond others, and might even add "as a self-measure of one's own efficacy". The question here is whether or not that's a good or bad thing. I'm guessing "competitive streak" reads with a negative connotation?

    Good answers so far. I think I disagree that it can't be quashed, though. For example, a kid doesn't come in first in a race and - out of that innate sense of competitiveness - is bitterly disappointed. I think a parent can choose to give that kid a little perspective on how winning isn't everything and tell him to just be glad he tried his hardest, or the parent could stoke his desire to win by saying something like "you'll get him next time, Tiger." A childhood filled with one type of feedback vs. another could shape a kid's competitive reflexes, couldn't it?

    I honestly don't know if it's a good or bad thing. Both DH and myself are not competitive by nature. And I sometimes wonder if we want to raise B to have more of a drive to dominate than we do. Being on the more relaxed, accepting side of things, I've observed that more competitive personalities than mine tend to get more of what they want because they're not satisfied if they're not on top. They're the hard bargainers. They tend to be the ones in charge, not necessarily due to talent, but because they're willing to agitate to have things their way. And they don't hesitate to let themselves be obnoxious without the least bit of self-consciousness. Yes, they often come off as nasty, but if they're not aware of it, what harm is that doing to them?

    On the other hand, I've never met an uber-competitive type who didn't have high blood pressure. And I have to wonder about the quality of their friendships.

    Here's a bonus, somewhat related question: Do you think it's important for a child to participate in team sports?
    Last edited by demigraf; 04-10-2013 at 12:53 AM.

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    As you describe it, I think it is a healthy aspect of human nature. Some people have it more strongly than others (and yes, it does seem to be correlated with high blood pressure). Still, I don't see a problem.

    You do often see the concept "competitive streak" with a negative connotation, though.

    With your example in a kid losing a game, it's such a normal reaction in a child B's age - and conversely, such as strikingly over-the-top reaction in a child just a few years older. I'd consider it dysfunctional at 7 and actually was something I often worked on as an aspect of speech therapy with my kids on the autism spectrum. We did a lot of games such as Go Fish to teach the concept of turn-taking, and consequently I was constantly dealing with meltdowns that tended to ensue. Given how atypical it appeared in those children's same-age peers I suspect there is a very significant maturation effect. Kids do outgrow that as they get more experience in competing. How a parent handles it (i.e. encouraging that exaggerated response vs. encouraging healthy fair play) goes far to determine how a child will view competition.

    Wow, that was long-winded.

    And team sports? Definitely not for me. I may not be the most socially sophisticated person in the world, but no thank you. But I took voice lessons in high school and competed for things like spaces in a choir, and scores in the regional/all state music competition, etc. Definitely a growth experience for me.

    DH took a class in sports psychology and learned a lot about the role of a coach in mentoring kids, not just in a game, but in working together cooperatively. Actually I learned a lot from DH and what he learned in that class.
    Last edited by Gwenn; 04-10-2013 at 01:00 AM.
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    That's so interesting about the kids on the autism spectrum, Mandy! I wonder if what develops through maturation is the ability to just conceal one's inner sore loser or the ability to genuinely suppress it?

    Now that I think about it, I guess the reason "competitive streak" doesn't have that negative connotation for me is a dear friend that I love and miss tons... we'd play games like Brain Age on the Nintendo DS and Back Alley Bridge, and she was the most ungracious winner, but in a comical way. She used to just smile broadly and announce "I have a competitive streak" whenever she won anything. It was her way of expressing her pleasure at winning.

    Note to self: write to old Lori and see how that crazy chick's doing.

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    Two things: emotional maturity around age 7 (yes, Bridget) and understanding of social give and take.

    You reminded of me of one of my dear old friends. We used to play Zork together. LOL! So not competitive but the gaming thing took me back.
    Last edited by Gwenn; 04-10-2013 at 01:34 AM.
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    Personally, I think it is more important to cultivate cooperation. A successful athlete or competitor of any kind will benefit far more from the art of cooperation. Being "competitive" is not necessary to win. Working really hard and doing your best is necessary to win. I would like to see my children focus on their personal goals rather than "beating" Johnny. Not that I expect them to carry Johnny across the finish line on their backs or anything but I certainly want them to shake his hand, win or lose. I would worry that too much cultivation of competitiveness would take away from the focusing on the core values that I hope my children learn. Hope that makes sense.

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    I believe too that kids are naturally competitive or they're not. Kids who like to compete should be put in things where they can feed off that desire such as sports or debate team. Kids who don't like to compete would do better where they can work with their peers but not be "against" another team, such as drama and chorus and things like that. I think no matter what the kid seems to thrive on it should be nurtured in a healthy way.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Gwenn View Post
    To me that is kind of a leading question. I'm going with other.

    I feel the competitive instinct is natural, and when given a healthy outlet, beneficial.

    On the other hand - MOST kids have their own, as I said, inborn competitive streak. You don't typically need to cultivate it and that can sometimes lead to the violent or extreme examples we see. Given a healthy and appropriate outlet, though, I have no problem with it.

    So, a very long-winded, in most cases no (no need to cultivate) but for a very few kids it might not be such a bad thing.

    But if the question were, "Do you need to discourage a competitive streak?" I guess I would question your definition of a competitive streak. Unless it were excessive or spiteful or harmful, my answer again would be no.
    Since I am tired and my response would not be nearly as eloquent. We'll just go with ITA with the above

    Quote Originally Posted by demigraf View Post
    Here's a bonus, somewhat related question: Do you think it's important for a child to participate in team sports?
    I think it is important for a child to be involved in something. Not a sport neccesarily, but I do believe extra curriculer activities are important.

    Things are a little crazy, but I'm loving every minute of it My Blog


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    As a hyper competitive person, I can tell you that there is no way to quash it. You can channel it, you can teach someone how to lose gracefully (it will sting, but we learn to internalize it, because as a 40 year old, tantrum throwing is not socially acceptable), but you cannot make a competitive person not so. And just because someone is competitive does not mean that they will be competitive in everything. Someone like me, I pick and choose things where I know I can compete successfully. The bad part of that is that I am extremely reluctant to participate in things where I cannot excel, because losing sucks, and I am a sore loser (gracious, but very, very sore inside).

    And I honestly think that laid back is better all around. Better for health, and easier to live with. DH is even more assertive and competitive than I am, and I can assure you that he is very nearly impossible to live with. He would probably say the same about me.

    As for team sports, no, I don't believe kids need to do team anything. They should have extracurricular activities, but it could be just about anything that makes them happy (dance, music, team sports, individual sports, art, etc.), and is healthy for them.

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    See? And I love Suja, so how can a competitive streak be a bad thing? ;) Race you on foot to the middle of the country, Suja!

    I know a few parents who are absolutely insistent that their kids are on team sports. Their weekends are totally dominated by practices and games. I'm having a hard time imagining a life like that, but if B wants to play soccer, that could be me.

    Who here was on teams growing up? I played basketball, volleyball, softball, track and tennis until I was in 9th grade. Then decided I was too cool and just wanted to smoke and hang with the Drama crowd.
    Last edited by demigraf; 04-10-2013 at 11:12 AM.

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    I never really thought about this and not sure that I really see a need to try to foster or squash it. For success in life, I really think that helping to foster resiliency is high up there. Being able to adapt to change is such an important skill.

    As for team sports....I would like my kid to at least try some kind of sport/physical activity. Don't really care much what one it is.
    I will say that I do consider music to be a team event. Very rarely in all my years of orchestra was it a solo event. So much more was everyone playing their parts at the right time, moving bows together, supporting those that had a solo....and some competition for things like solos or first chair, second chair, that sort of thing.

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    Suja, how did your parents talk to you about winning/losing? Did they try to discourage competitiveness in you and fail?

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    No sports for me. But you get the same thing with music. There was practice...and one of my groups was after school. Concerts. Private lessons. Of course practice at home.

    Jennifer, 35, DH 36

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    Nope, the word "team" still strikes fear in my heart. I'm not even kidding, I get a bit nervous just thinking about it.

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    I thought about this some more - initially under the pretense that I was not a competitive person, but after some thought.... I think I am a bit competitive, but not in an outward way. I compete, but not with others - with myself. I don't know if that makes any sense at all. I always have to outdue myself, do better than what I *think* I can do and enjoy (selfishly) doing better than my peers.

    This is speaking purely academicly. I am not competitive in the work environment. I just can't embrace that mentality in an environment where I think it is best to work with each other and competitiveness can result in people working against each other. This is of course my interpretation and experiences that I have had and I am sure that there are instances where competitiveness is valued and even neccesary. I am also not a team sports player, I suck at sports, in every sense of the word.

    I am much like Suja in that I will not do something that I don't think I can excel at, I don't enjoy failing or not doing 'the best'.

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    I think it's not in anyone's best interests to try to foster competition. There is plenty of innate competition in people and kids, and a higher degree of competition, especially when they haven't developed more maturity or coping strategies, doesn't necessarily lead to more success but more frustration.

    I also don't think team sports are necessary. I think it's nice to participate in group activities, and I think physical activity is important, but it doesn't have to be competitive. I took gymnastics for most of my school years. I did do some competitions, but honestly, I hated the thought of it. I wanted to do my best all the time, but didn't like it when everyone was watching me or when I felt like I was responsible for the team performance. Same for team sports. I could do them, and liked running around, but didn't ever like feeling like I might be the person who could make the whole team sink or swim with one missed goal. I do not like the feeling of anxiety I get when everyone is counting on me.

    I can be quite competitive, but I don't get angry when I lose. I just like winning. And I like to do my best. I have fostered my own ability to try to improve myself over time, and not to try to do better than everyone else. I like playing games, like card games (spades) and backyard games (like croquet), although I am getting kind of sad thinking it's been years since I've done anything like that. I always did well in school, not because I wanted to be THE best but because I wanted to do MY best.

    DH and I tried to have the twins compete to see who could get ready for bed faster, when we were having trouble getting them to do it. It resulted in a lot of hurt feelings and crying and yelling. We stopped it after a few weeks, when we realized they were just getting upset and often it didn't even help them get ready for bed sooner. It's been more than a year since we did that, and if one is getting teeth brushed and the other one still doesn't have pajamas on, there may be occasional tears on some nights because of that competition.

    We've also been getting into one-upmanship here and at school.


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    A lot was written while I was thinking. No, I was not on any teams, except the occasional gymnastic team, but it wasn't like every weekend. We moved a lot and often lived far away from anywhere. I also think band/music was a group activity, but it wasn't competitive against other groups, although I always went for first chair. I did marching band in jr. high school, and drama in high school, so I had play practice. Oh, I guess I did soccer in high school for a little while, too, but that wasn't very much because there was snow on the ground for so much of the year we only had a few games.


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    I didn't do any extra curricular activities. I was in a chorus in elementary school and we had a shakily run 'theater group' in middle school, but thats it. My parents couldn't afford for me to really do any activities, nor did they have the time to pick me late after school or run me around on the weekends.

    DH is pretty excited about getting Nolan into sports, I just hope Nolan likes them otherwise poor DH will be so disappointed. He always wanted to play sports as a kid, but his family also couldn't afford/had time for such things. So we both want to be sure that opportunity is afforded to Nolan. Though we've had the 'it is his life, not yours' conversation since I worry he'll push it. I guess that's what I am here for though, to make sure he doesn't get too... enthusiastic and lets Nolan choose what he enjoys most

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    Quote Originally Posted by Smplyme89 View Post
    I thought about this some more - initially under the pretense that I was not a competitive person, but after some thought.... I think I am a bit competitive, but not in an outward way. I compete, but not with others - with myself. I don't know if that makes any sense at all. I always have to outdue myself, do better than what I *think* I can do and enjoy (selfishly) doing better than my peers.

    This is speaking purely academicly. I am not competitive in the work environment. I just can't embrace that mentality in an environment where I think it is best to work with each other and competitiveness can result in people working against each other. This is of course my interpretation and experiences that I have had and I am sure that there are instances where competitiveness is valued and even neccesary. I am also not a team sports player, I suck at sports, in every sense of the word.

    I am much like Suja in that I will not do something that I don't think I can excel at, I don't enjoy failing or not doing 'the best'.
    I am this way, too. I expect A LOT from myself if it is something I care about. However, I work well as part of a team at work and don't enjoy drama. Unfortunately, as it turns out. When members on a team see another performing at a high level and step up their performance ... that's healthy competitiveness. When "competitiveness" turns to sabotaging, complaining, or backstabbing ... that's unhealthy. I think some of this is all about definitions and perception, but the drive to achieve and excel is essential, in my opinion.
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    I am competitive and do not like to lose. It's not something my parents ever cared about, but I do remember my dad telling me to always try my best. I'm not obsessed about winning, though.

    We have encouraged Travis to join the local soccer team. He enjoys it; otherwise, I wouldn't make him do it. He is having a hard time, though when his team loses. He has proper little fits where he shouts things like, "stupid idiots!" We've told him that as long.as he's trying his best, that is all he can do.we've told him that it's not realistic to win all the time.

    I played basketball for a year in high school and gave it up to take band more seriously. Even though it wasn't a sport, the band worked as a team and I worked towards individual goals of winning medals at competitions.

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    Quote Originally Posted by demigraf View Post
    Suja, how did your parents talk to you about winning/losing? Did they try to discourage competitiveness in you and fail?
    They neither encouraged, nor discouraged. Just helped me understand that some responses are more appropriate than others. So, I'm graceful on the outside, seething sore loser on the inside.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Suja View Post
    They neither encouraged, nor discouraged. Just helped me understand that some responses are more appropriate than others. So, I'm graceful on the outside, seething sore loser on the inside.
    Ah. Hee hee. I was just asking because you'd mentioned a competitive tendency "can't be squashed", so I thought maybe your parents had tried to put you in competitive rehab or something. LOL.

    (Sorry I just saw this and am responding late. You're too cool to be seething inside about a late reply from me anyway. Smiley_sunglasses2.gif)

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    Competitive rehab won't work on me. I'd just figure out what they want to hear, perfect it and pitch it to them, so I can get out and go on my merry competitive way.

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