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Children Must Learn Healthy Competition: Sylvia Rimm on Raising Kids

By Sylvia Rimm

Q.My 9-year-old son has always been bright and does well in school. He's very competitive -- hates to lose, and still cries when he loses or when things don't go his way. Without being too critical, we're trying to get him to understand that sports are played for fun, and if there's crying involved, then it's no longer fun for anyone.

Our son has also developed signs of anxiety about sports and school performance. He worries about games in the future and games that have already been played. We've taken him to a psychologist, and she feels he's very aware of his anxieties and in tune with what his body is telling him. Is it possible that he currently appears to be more overly concerned about these things because the psychologist is making him aware? Is there an initial spike in anxiety while working on these problems? He's only seen the psychologist twice.

I don't want to make a little bit of anxiety become overwhelming, but I've also seen what anxiety can do to someone if left unchecked. My husband and I feel that trying to address this at age 9 will be a lot easier than addressing it at 19.

A.Learning to cope with losing in competition is learning about life. Everyone wants to win, but understanding that losing doesn't make you a loser is an important lesson. As long as your son doesn't quit, he'll become more resilient. You'll want to encourage him to stay in sports. A sport like track, where he can measure his personal best and see progress, will help him on the path toward learning to compete. Soccer is also a good sport, because he can do plenty of active running and assisting teammates without the pressure to always make the goal. Swim teams permit multiple awards and promote teamwork, so that can be a very good activity for learning about competition.

Playing card and board games at home is often helpful for teaching children about handling competition, particularly if there's plenty of joking and laughter that accompanies the games. Don't just let your son win, and ignore his tears when he loses. If he drops out, continue playing with the rest of the family, and invite him to come back when he's ready. You can feel comforted to know that many children struggle with learning to deal with competition and that your son isn't alone with this problem.

It's possible that your son's talking to a psychologist about his anxiety can temporarily cause him to be more anxious. Just knowing that this problem is something that his parents have taken him to a psychologist about is enough to cause a child to temporarily worry more. Nevertheless, you're correct. It's better to learn to deal with competition at age 9 than age 19. You would find it helpful to meet with your son's psychologist about the best role you can play in supporting your son. You'll feel more comfortable when you know how the psychologist is trying to guide him and how you can encourage him. Parents are typically part of a child's therapy.

Dr. Sylvia B. Rimm is the director of the Family Achievement Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio, a clinical professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, and the author of many books on parenting. More information on raising kids is available at www.sylviarimm.com.

Categories: School-Age, Children,

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