Winning isn't everything
We all want our kids to win at everything in life. But you need to be aware of the positive and negative impacts that it can have on your child’s self-esteem.
You’ve read all the books on self-esteem and you are committed to helping your child find the winner within.
So when you play a game of snakes and ladders, you let her win; you race her down the passage and she wins there too. She also swims better than you, and scores infinitely more netball goals than you ever scored in your whole primary school sporting career.
Carol Dweck, an American psychologist and her research team, conducted a series of experiments on 400 Grade 5 students. Researchers took one child out of the classroomand tested him using a series of puzzles. The puzzles were easy enough for all the children to do well.
After the test, each child was told his score and then was given a single line of praise. Randomly divided into groups, some were praised for their intelligence. They were told “You must be smart at this” and other students were praised for their effort “You must have worked really hard”.
Then the students were given a choice of tests for the second round. One choice was a test that would be more difficult than the first. The other choice was an easy test just like the first round. Of those praised for effort, 90% chose the harder set of puzzles. Of those praised for their intelligence, a majority chose the easy test.
This study clearly shows that when effort is praised, it encourages children to try an important life skill. When outcome is praised, it makes children more concerned with image than learning.
What message are we giving our children when we always let them win?
Are we saying that winning is more important than trying? Does the outcome become more important than the process? And could this, as Dwek found, contribute to kids who become afraid to fail and so stop trying?
The lessons of losing are numerous:
- Firstly, losing gives our children the opportunity to build emotional resilience.
- Losing gives them the chance to see others in the experience.
- Losing gives children the chance to reevaluate their approach, and to make improvements where necessary.
- Most of all, losing gives children the chance to experience the joy of winning. As much as we want our children to win with grace, we also want them to lose with resilience.
So what can we do about it?
- Firstly, focus on describing your children’s efforts rather than her achievements.
- Secondly, don’t avoid competition (as long as it’s in the correct dose!). Competition is a way for children to work out the give and take in relationships. If it gets out of hand, then adult intervention will be necessary to put an end to it.
- Thirdly, we must balance winning and losing. Sometimes kids win and sometimes they lose. We can’t change the facts, but we can offer our emotional support by communicating. Help your child to share her thoughts and feelings and offer a listening (vs. judgmental) ear to her experiences.