Competition Teaches Our Children To Tackle Life With Gusto

by : Elena Neitlich

Competition is a fact of life. Some of us are more competitive than others and put ourselves into situations that test our endurance, strength, knowledge, perseverance and skill. Be it sports, writing, business, or art, competitive situations allow us to model good behavior and teach our children about taking risks and chances, being good sports, having resilience and maintaining balance even through “edge of your seat" times.

Discussing competition with our children can be broken down into these key topics.


Teach your children that taking healthy risk is good and that being risk averse can keep them from enjoying activities that they love. Encourage them to step outside of their comfort zone and do things that might make them feel a little uncomfortable. Examples of risk taking for young children could be approaching children to play at school or on the playground, trying a new instrument or sport, taking the the training wheels off, skating, or competing in a sports league. Start encouraging your children to take risks early and help them build the self confidence that they will need as adults to interview for college, go for the really great job or ask for a raise.

Remind your children that everyone feels anxious in new situations, even the teacher on the first day of school and the coach on the first day of practice! Your kids need to know that the child that they would love to play with on the jungle gym would be thrilled to have a new buddy.

Try not to label a child as “shy", “introverted", or “reserved" because once labeled people find evidence to support that characterization. Where can a child go from a label like that? Suddenly they are not expected to take risks because they are “shy" so they do not push themselves to push through their discomfort…the same discomfort that everyone feels to some degree in new situations. It is also very difficult to change a label, so a child that was initially more reserved but who has learned how to be more outgoing has a hard time shaking the initial label.


Good sportsmanship is one of the greatest lessons you can teach your children. Roger Federer, considered to be perhaps the greatest tennis player of all time, did not start winning major tournaments until he conquered his temper on the court. His poise especially during the most important points makes him virtually unbeatable. He hates to lose but has grace when he does and uses a loss to further perfect his game.

Teach your children, even when playing tic-tac-toe, that win or lose they must be good sports. Assure them that win or lose you love them and they are great. It can feel just fine to do your best, lose, and congratulate your opponent with a handshake. Kids are ready to grasp the concept of good sportsmanship at different points of development. Start when they are young, continue to reinforce the message, and they will get it in time. Also, it is very important that you model good sportsmanship for your children. Parents are the most important role model that children will ever have, so it is important that if you are playing or watching them play be a good sport.


Losing is a fact of life. Parents need to guide children through the hurt, humiliation and frustration that go hand in hand with losing. For some children losing can feel like the end of the world. First praise, praise, praise for a job well done. Point out what the child did right, not what he or she did wrong; leave that to the coach or teacher. Be there for your children after a loss and listen to them. Encourage your kids to keep working at what they love. Allow your children to vent their aggravation after a loss, let them take a little break if they need it and then nudge them right back out there. Resilience means bouncing back from disappointment, so help them to bounce back. Winning is also a fact of life. Teach your children to win with grace and to show respect to their opponents. Let them enjoy their win! Remind them that their opponent might be feeling crummy. Also remind them that a win today could be a loss tomorrow.

Maintaining Balance

Introduce your children to many different activities. Sometimes as parents we only encourage our kids to do those sports or activities that we love or that our children excel at right off the bat. Listen and watch your kids play. Do their eyes light up when they help in the kitchen? Do they beg Daddy to take them out to throw a baseball? How about story telling or bug collecting or dancing? Give them a lot of down time to imagine and create and make believe and rest.


Competition is healthy for people. It encourages us to put ourselves out there and risk failure and success. There is a new trend to shield children from competition because their feelings may get hurt if they lose. How could this possibly benefit our children? If children never learn how to lose when they are young then how do they handle adulthood where life if wrought with difficulties: eliminated job positions, relationships that go south, lost tennis matches, and financial trouble? The goal is to prepare our children for adulthood so that they can face life head-on with guts and not crumble at failure. We want to teach our children to tackle life with gusto.