Competition and cooperation need not be mutually exclusive, but if you want to build character in your kids, which would you choose for them? Research suggests the latter. Rae Pica, children’s physical activity specialist and author (A Running Start: How Play, Physical Activity, and Free Time Create a Successful Child) says this: “Unlike competition, which research shows can foster antisocial behavior; cooperation has been determined to promote prosocial behaviors.” She suggests that when kids cooperate, whether in playing a game or doing a project, they learn skills such as listening, supporting each other, taking turns, and resolving conflicts. And what’s more, they end up feeling more successful and more self-confident than kids do in competitive settings.
So why choose to put kids into competitive situations? Because they do want to be gymnasts, soccer players, and T-ball standouts, along with the rest of their friends! Helping your kids navigate the downside of competitive activities takes prayer and wisdom—and a few good tips from experts:
• Look for activities for your young child that focus on learning, not on competing (and certainly not on score-keeping!).
• For your elementary child, put the emphasis on “doing your best”—not on being the best, or even on winning.
• Become a role model for your middle-schooler—and look for coaches who model good sportsmanship, focus on building skills, and encourage having fun.
• Watch for signs of stress in your high-school student or athlete. Work with others (parents, coaches, school staff) to reduce rivalry and hostile competition between kids and teams.
Want to dig deeper? Check out the American Academy of Pediatrics website—and tack this quote up on your refrigerator: “If you want to be incrementally better: Be competitive. If you want to be exponentially better: Be cooperative.” (source unknown)
--Patricia Nederveld, author of the Home Grown Study Guide (seven sessions on Christian parenting), and the God Loves Me series.