10 July 2009

Seeking Balance #1: Competitiveness



{I can’t tell you how many drafts I have with the title “Seeking Balance.” I never could find the right words to say all I want to say on the subject, so I’ve decided to tackle this bit by bit.}

If somebody is to ask me what the hardest thing about being a parent is, I would, without hesitation, say that it is about finding that perfect balance. The perfect balance –giving your children all you can but stopping short of the point where they might get a improper sense of entitlement, helping them but also knowing when to let them help themselves, how much is too much, what is just enough, am I overdoing / not doing enough, etc.

I muddle through. Hoping, praying that I don’t drop the ball when it really counts.

~~--~~

At Josh’s and Zoë’s Socatots classes, I had a chance to observe different approaches to competitiveness.

There are parents who quietly encourage. There are parents who enthusiastically and loudly cheer. There are those who just let their children be. There are grandmothers who hover and point out how the other kids are doing vs. their own.

Sometimes when a child comes crying because he failed to score a goal, there are some parents who patiently urge their children to go back and try again. There are those who just tell their kids to suck it up and get back in there. Others would comfort and hold the child until he feels comfortable enough to rejoin the class.

How do you teach a child about striving to be the best that they can be without turning him into an aggressive, overly competitive little beast?

Is “I may not be the best, but I’m good” good enough or might that set them up for a life of complacent “settling”?

How much encouragement from you and how much “discover the joy yourself and feel the pride”? Do you tirelessly cheer them on? When do you just sit back and let them be?

Honesty to what degree? Brutal as in, “No, you’ll never be good at this sport”? Possibly falsely (?) encouraging as in, “You’ll just have to try harder. It’s never easy at the beginning, but you’ll soon get the hang of it” even though you can clearly see that your child might be better off trying his hand at something else?

How do you draw comparisons or point out peers’ performance or non-performance without sending the wrong message that his worth / abilities should always be measured against others’?

Lots of questions here. I would love to hear your thoughts about these.

5 COMMENTS:

Chocolate Covered Daydreams said...

Lots of good questions.I'll use my two girls as an example. One was acting (commercials, movies, television) by the time she was three. She had a knack and wasn't shy. The other was very petite and shy and so acting was out. I put her in gymnastics. Not knowing that she would have a talent for it, we cheered her on. Little did we know that she would go very far in the sport. The times when others beat her and won medals, we told her that she still got a medal because of her efforts. We cheered her on because she tried.

Make a point to point out to Zoe and Josh that it's really about having fun more than anything else. The gym moms and dads were tough cookies to contend with. They would be in the coaches faces, demanding to know why their child wasn't being pushed. On the other hand, I was the parent that told her to go out and have fun. Once it was no longer fun, it was time to quit, if she was ready to quit.

I don't believe in teaching kids to be so competitive that they start losing out in their friendships with one another.

Helene said...

Wow, there is some deep thinking involved here. I guess I've just encouraged my kids to have fun with the activities they do. They just recently played t-ball and at first, they were both very nervous and hated it. But we kept encouraging them to go back, saying "just keep practicing and you'll feel more comfortable, besides...your team is counting on you". We really wanted to play up the whole team thing because we felt that was important too.

The coach was also really good about encouraging them....I had to stand in the field with them plenty of times though but once they started getting more involved in the game, they LOVED it. I think it was just a matter of them feeling confident with their skills and to keep trying.

My 4 yr old son is huge on "losing" and I'm always drilling into him that it doesn't matter who wins and who loses, but as long as you had fun and played fair, that's all that matters. He's slowly getting it.

The one bad experience we had was my 4 yr old daughter was dying to do ballet. So I enrolled her in a class and she was extremely shy and didn't want anyone watching her. She refused to go back after about 6 classes, esp when she learned there would be a dance recital in front of all the parents at Christmas time. She freaked. I didn't have the heart to make her go back, even though it was technically "quitting". I just couldn't bare to see her so self-conscious. I figure when she's feeling a little more confident with her abilities, she can decide then if she'd like to try ballet again.

But some of those ballet parents...my goodness, they were practically doing pliets and splits on the sidelines watching their kids. I remember one little girl had to go to the bathroom and her mother kept saying "after class....after class....you can't pee right now because then we'd have to take off your leotard and your tights and I'm just not gonna do that right now". I wanted to slug her.

Wanda said...

Awh man - that is loaded.

My personal approach is to give everything a try. When Dahlia seemed interested in something, I (somewhat quietly) encouraged her to pursue it. I try not to over-praise every little thing (I think it becomes insincere when each step is applauded) but rather I let her know, often, that I'm not surprised that she has done something well. When something that she has done is really over the top and I really am impressed, I really express it and she just beams.

And I'm a firm believer in trying lots of things. Life is full of interesting activities and challenges and each one is an opportunity for growth and fulfillment. I'm kind of a carpe diem kind of person.

Dahlia is playing soccer again for the second year and really isn't getting the game like she probably should by now. It drives mu husband crazy but I'm fairly confident she will learn it by herself, like she has with everything else, and to have fun in the meantime. Otherwise, it will become too much pressure and she'll quit. We don't quit. We change plans sometimes, for good reasons, but we don't quit. So, I'm often shussing my DH and smiling with a thumbs up as Dahlia "chases" that ball around the field.

This balancing act is and art, not a science and it's a moving target at best. I take my cues from my daughter on how best she will blossom and grow. (And I pray this confidence I feel doesn't bite me in the bum with Milana soon.)

:)

How about posting how you have been approaching this issue with your two. I'd love to see more of your perspective.

Joanne Choi said...

such a loaded question...and no simple answer. I struggle with it every waking moment of my kids' lives - mainly because I am, by nature an extremely competitive person, as is husband. Mediocrity, in my students and in myself has always bothered me an absurd amount. With my kids, I have a hard time tempering that and keeping it under wraps, as the oldest is only 5. What am I to logically expect from her? Is it so important that she already reads? Is it more admirable that her younger sister reads as well? How about the fact that the youngest has started speaking well before the others have? How come the oldest isn't Mozart on the piano? (I wasn't either so I have no idea where THAT obnoxiousness comes from.)

But you're so right as it is all a matter of balance, because I'm sorry, there is a whole lot of complacency in our society today. I teach high school students, and what they THINK is great - is often only barely mediocre. No one believes in hard work anymore. So many students don't want to think about not being good at something, because they aren't willing to think about HOW they can be good at something with hard work. The value of hard work has been lost for so many youth, because things have gotten so easy. We are an instant society in our information, and so many expect that results are the same way.

So what I try to say to my kids, is that it doesn't matter what ANYONE else does - it's up to you. And no one benefits from practice or the hard work - only you do. I hope to raise kids who are not scared of hard work, who are willing to keep trying something even if they aren't good at it, and willing to do something even when it is hard.

Mahmee said...

Wow...'seeking balance'. Well that says it all, doesn't it? I am too humble in my opinion of my parenting skills to actually provide any advice here. So...I think I will just lurk and soak up the advice of others.
M.

Post a Comment

Blog Widget by LinkWithin