As the saying goes, “it's an honour just to be nominated”. But as a mom, always thinking of my kids first, I'm going to tweak the saying: “it's an honour and teachable moment just to be nominated”. How do you talk to your kids about competition and kindness?
Last month, My Kindness Calendar was named a finalist in an international grant competition for mom entrepreneurs. Over 250 moms and business owners applied from across Canada and the US, and as far as Spain, Nigeria, Korea and France. I was delighted when the panel of expert entrepreneurs named me as one of 8 finalists! Fast forward a few weeks and thousands of public votes later. The $5,000 grant didn't go my way (sniff), and while it would have been nice, I still walked away a winner. Great exposure, new contacts and a great life lesson for my daughter. Win win win!
Anyone who has ever played a game with a young child has seen first hand how important winning can be to kids. My daughter, who's almost 5, is at the perfect age when that desire to win kicks in. Kids take pride in winning and sometimes, equal pleasure in their opponent’s defeat. Winning may lead to boasting, loosing may lead to tantrums. But none of this is concerning, in fact it's totally developmentally appropriate. At this age, kids think in absolutes and categories - there's a winner and a loser. They feel things deeply and express their emotions fully. They believe in their capabilities and powers strongly (I bet all of our kids are “the BEST!” insert-skill-here, in their own opinions!) and get crushed when these ideas are challenged with a loss.
But no one wants their kids to throw the board game across the floor or sulk when they miss a goal, which is where we as parents come in. Here's another gem of a saying: “practice, practice, practice!” Being a good sport is something kids can practice and learn, as with all things, by seeing our example.
So that's what I did this month. Instead of focusing on not winning the grant, I showed my daughter the other applicants and celebrated their accomplishments. I profiled and congratulated the winner publicly since she's awesome and deserves it too. I told her all the great things that happened throughout the process. And I expressed my disappointment - because it's always better to let feelings out - and then moved on.
How else do you talk to your kids about winning and losing? The World Cup is a perfect way to start the conversation right now. At the end of any game, talk about what the two teams are doing. One team is rejoicing a hard fought win, as they should! The other is likely immobilized by disappointment, which is important since all emotions, even the hard ones, deserve to be felt and dealt with. But then watch the players go to one another. The winners congratulate and maybe console the other team. They shake hands, they hug. The empathize and they celebrate. If we could hear them, they'd probably say “good game”, praise each other's efforts (not just outcomes), and focus on the whole game (not just the end result). They are good sports.
Give your kids a chance to practice their reactions and feel healthy competition. If they love to compete, give them opportunities to compete against themselves (how fast can you get dressed today? Can you beat yesterday's time?) and allow them to feel pride but not at anyone's expense. Introduce cooperative games where everyone works together instead of against one another to accomplish a task. We have some great cooperative board games that build great teamwork skills (Mermaid Island, anyone?) And when it is a win/lose scenario, focus on the journey and what they did well (praise those efforts!). Don't focus on the destination and how they cross the finish line. Role model the language and reactions you want to see. This is what I always try to do, and when I hear my words repeated back to me, I know some of it is sinking in.
Losing gracefully is a life skill and a key puzzle piece in raising kind kids. If we start to focus on it as early as can be, kids will learn to be kind to themselves and to each other, wherever they land on the podium and whatever World Cup team they end up playing for in years to come.