Do Competitions at an Early Age Negatively Affect Children?

by Madison Li ‘22

Source: Community Psychiatry

Published Dec. 24th, 2020

Most parents, educators, and child psychologists will agree that a certain amount of competition is necessary for children. Under the right conditions, winning teaches pride in self-accomplishment, while losing teaches modesty in interpersonal relationships. Children are able to develop healthy self-esteems when they’re praised for winning and comforted after losing. 

However, a delicate balance must be struck: leaning toward one extreme can severely harm children. Too much competition can confine their lives within the limits of victory and defeat. Too little competition can produce self-entitlement and lack of empathy. The question is, where do we draw the line?

Children whose personalities reflect either side of the spectrum tend to have been raised by two types of helicopter parents. Both fall in the trap of focusing too much attention on their child, which causes the child to develop a sort of tunnel vision, but in opposite directions. 

The first kind of typical helicopter parent pushes their child to overachieve, an especially common phenomenon in Asian households. Part of this mindset includes pressuring children to accumulate medals and trophies with seemingly little regard to their mental, emotional, or physical health. In a few extreme cases, parents’ love can even appear heavily dependent on whether their child is successful, leading the child to believe that their life and value revolve entirely around winning competitions. Losing once could utterly destroy the child’s self-esteem.

The second type of parent coddles their child, which is more common for families in higher income brackets. These parents want their children to feel safe and thus try to protect them from any negative feelings. Yet, this actually hinders the child’s emotional development. By handing every accomplishment on a silver platter to a child, competition slowly loses significance. Whether the child wins or loses, the parents’ reactions are always the same: praise, which eventually becomes empty and meaningless. As a result, these children won’t develop confidence in themselves, may be overly dependent on their parents for approval, and expect to win every competition without hard work.Although the situations described above are representative of the furthest extremes, most parents are prone to occasionally indulge in similar behaviors. Therefore, it’s crucial to always strive for balance. Young children tend to copy their parents, so a child’s perspective toward competition relies extensively on their parents’ perspectives. Ultimately, parents must be careful about how they personally perceive competition and how they project that view, in order to provide a more constructive experience for children.

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