Is competition good for kids ?

Charlie - posted on 06/01/2011 ( 8 moms have responded )

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The case against competition from Alfie Kohn :

I used to be in the second camp. But after investigating the topic for several years, looking at research from psychology, sociology, biology, education, and other fields, I'm now convinced that neither position is correct. Competition is bad news all right, but it's not just that we overdo it or misapply it. The trouble lies with competition itself. The best amount of competition for our children is none at all, and the very phrase "healthy competition" is actually a contradiction in terms.

Competition is to self-esteem as sugar is to teeth. Most people lose in most competitive encounters, and it's obvious why that causes self-doubt. But even winning doesn't build character; it just lets a child gloat temporarily. Studies have shown that feelings of self-worth become dependent on external sources of evaluation as a result of competition: Your value is defined by what you've done. Worse -- you're a good person in proportion to the number of people you've beaten.

You can read the entire article here : http://www.alfiekohn.org/parenting/tcac....

The case for :Healthy competition focuses on doing one’s best, having fun, and learning skills. It promotes teamwork and positive participation. Those who give a strong effort and strive to improve themselves usually advance. If learning or improving is the goal, children always reach it. If they happen to win, it’s icing on the cake.
http://www.parentstoolshop.com/HTML/STAR...

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I can't read the links at the moment, but I agree with Erin. It's not realistic to remove competition from a child's experiences because there will be winners and losers throughout life.

Also, I've seen what the unhealthy outcome of not having a winner produces. I know this 10 year old who has either won or "won" (where everyone gets a trophy) every competition she's been in. She's a good swimmer and often wins swimming competitions, but even if she doesn't win she gets a trophy... Because everyone wins. She decided to go for student council representative pfor her class. Her less sporty older sister did the same for her class. The 10 year old didn't win, but her sister did. The 10 year old was not only inconsolable, but the entire family had to walk on eggshells the rest of the week because she was so touchy. There's was no big "Congrats!" for the daughter who got into student council, because it would upset the 10 year old. The older sister doesn't really participate in competitive things and is quite shy, so going in what amounts to a popularity competition was very risky for her and a HUGE step for her. But, it was all downplayed because any time it was mentioned, the 10 year old lashed out and then ran off crying.

That household was on lock-down for a week because this girl couldn't handle actually losing. Every time she loses at something, this is what happens. Shes been built up to think that she is the best and cannot handle any less. That creates a tremendous amount of stress for her.

I can see how competition can be unhealthy, but that is mostly due to the parents. If, as a parent, you teach your kids to be humble and to see competition as a way to try and improve yourself, I don't see the problem.

But then remember, I am a moderate tiger mum, who has lost heaps of competitions and job interviews. :-)

Tara - posted on 06/01/2011

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More from the article about why I agree with it.
"...One after another, researchers across the country have concluded that children do not learn better when education is transformed into a competitive struggle. Why? First, competition often makes kids anxious and that interferes with concentration. Second, competition doesn't permit them to share their talents and resources as cooperation does, so they can't learn from one another. Finally, trying to be Number One distracts them from what they're supposed to be learning. It may seem paradoxical, but when a student concentrates on the reward (an A or a gold star or a trophy), she becomes less interested in what she's doing. The result: Performance declines. .."
As well...
"..Brandeis University psychologist Teresa Amabile was more interested in creativity. In a study, she asked children to make "silly collages." Some competed for prizes and some didn't. Seven artists then independently rated the kids' work. It turned out that those who were trying to win produced collages that were much less creative -- less spontaneous, complex and varied -- than the others. "
This does not mean children should not fail, should not experience the feeling of disappointment nor does it mean that children should not know and appreciate that everyone has their own "stuff" that they are good at and their own "other stuff" that they know other people are better at.
It means that you don't need a winner or a loser to learn those things.

Charlie - posted on 06/01/2011

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I find it interesting that emphasis is placed on creativity and not comepition as a way to success .

Honestly I have never thought too much about it but after reading his article and the research behind it I am inclined to agree with him and I find it makes a lot of sense.

Tara - posted on 06/01/2011

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I love Alphie Kohn!
I agree with his stance 100%. I've done so much research over the years about school and the competitive nature of institutionalized learning, and how it affects children and their view of themselves.
I agree that competition serves only to boost the ego of the winner for a short while. I would go one step further and say that competition in the classroom is inherent. While there is no "race" to see who finishes first. There is the grading system that allows for winners and losers. The A+ student is the winner who receives the pat on the head, the gold star and his/her name on the wall of fame (or whatever system is in place to reward good grades) therefore temporarily thrusting him above his peers, better than his peers and separate from them.
The C - student gets the frown a "try harder next time" from the teacher, he doesn't get a gold star or pat on the head and his name never goes on the wall of fame. He isn't the winner, he is, inherently the loser. The words winner and loser need never be uttered, those children feel completely differently about the school system, their class room, their teacher and their peers.

Watch the documentary titled "Human Resources" at www.topdocumentaryfilms.com
It will blow you mind Loureen. It will frighten you. lol

Ez - posted on 06/01/2011

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I will never buy into the 'there are no winners' philosophy, because that is just not real life. In life, there ARE going be winners. There ARE going to be people who are better at something than you. Children need to learn how to deal with that in a supportive and controlled environment.

Obviously there is a fine line between encouragement and pressure, and that is a line I am determined not to cross. But if handled appropriately, I am all for 'healthy competition'. We can't protect our children from the world forever.

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Tara - posted on 06/01/2011

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Loureen you should watch the documentary. You will find it very very interesting. I assure you.
It's worth the 90 or so minutes of your life, and may lead to even more research as it did for me, and I found out even more that I didn't know. And I did my own research about this stuff almost a decade ago when we started homeschooling.

~♥Little Miss - posted on 06/01/2011

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I think competition is good for everyone, but I don't think the outcome should define anyone.

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