How To Teach Your Children Healthy Competition Habits

Almost any of us who grew up in a family household with brothers and sisters will at some point have experienced rivalry and competition, with one or more of our siblings. Sometimes children can be almost cruel in order to stake their claim as alpha male or female.  A dad will find it very likely that even a small child will challenge him or their siblings to a race to get to the bathroom first - even my 20-year-old daughter still insists that she gets to brush her teeth first, every night and morning…

Many parents consciously or unconsciously compete with their children – for example, President Obama, who’s carefully spoken and calm exterior belies a fiercely completive nature, famously told a group of outgoing interns “When you all have kids, it’s important to let them win,” he said. Then he added, with a smile, “Until they’re a year old” — at which point you can start winning again”.

I can remember feeling anxious when my own father almost sulking, after the first time at 6 years old, I finally beat him at Subbuteo, my favorite football game.

Competition is a fact of life – but how can you teach your child to deal with its consequences in a healthy manner?  

So is a little competition in the household a good or bad thing? 

Well, the jury is out as to whether (like my father) you should always allow your children to taste defeat for an extended period of time, so that when they finally win they can celebrate it with you like a casino winner.  Or, is it better to just allow them to win all the time, and join them in the victory celebrations?

Some psychologists contend that it is better to prepare children for life lessons up to the age of 6 by letting win occasionally, but make sure that the game has the appearance of being played fairly. Do not let them know that you have rigged the game. “Remember that preschoolers don't think much in terms of winning and losing. It is much more important to them that the game be fun. Instead of worrying about letting your child win, think about how to make the game more enjoyable” says Susan K Perry a social psychologist and the author of award-winning books and articles from .

Other experts have expanded a different view, that children should not be allowed rigged victories, and that they’ll understand how to deal with defeat gracefully if they always win, and they will carry the lessons into their adult lives.

In any case, the consensus of opinion seems to be that it is important not to allow your child to win every time. A child who grows up always winning will not develop the skills to deal with adversity, and it is important that you teach them how to cope, as early in life as possible, via competition. By the same token, if and when you win, it’s important not to be overly critical of your child’s competitive efforts.  This can contribute to poor habits and lack of self-control in later life.

For example, you may have seen some adults who are otherwise loyal casino patrons, who behave badly and are sore losers when the luck does not go their way - they are more likely to lose control and keep spending money that they don’t have on continuing to gamble beyond their budget, trying to recoup their losses.

Now that we’ve established the ground rules for playing with kids – what should you do?


Teach your kids how to win and how to lose  - the healthy way 

Here are some quick tips to guide you how to teach competition to your children, that will help to deal with winning and losing gracefully and how to support others in the game.

Tip 1. If you are playing with younger children, let them win a couple of rounds at first, before you beat them fairly. Young children can lose interest quickly and get very demoralized if they lose right out fo the gate.

Tip 2.  Don’t play a game that is too difficult for their age group. Start them off with a board game that is easy-to-master and is of short duration, rather than a game where an adult will have a physically or mental advantage. Give them a realistic chance of winning fairly!

Tip 3. You have to be their role model. If you are a sore loser, they will follow. Be encouraging when you lose and congratulate their victory. Tell them that you’ll have to try harder next time, with good humor.

Tip 4. If your child has a temper tantrum when they lose, don’t react! This may a first make the crying, foot stamping and like worse at first, but when your child doesn’t get attention, he or she will get bored and calm down.

Tip 5. Keep on practicing. Whether a board game or a sport, give your child plenty of chances to play and practice his or her social interaction skills. they are not learned overnight. Give plenty of praise when your child reacts correctly and do talk about the game in a positive way.


If you follow these tips and apply them to yourself as well, in no time you will see the difference in your child’s attitude to competition, safe in the knowledge that you have taught them the true meaning of healthy competition, and how to deal with its consequences, for life.