Written by Doctor G

My kids won’t stop competing!

My kids won’t stop competing! My boys are 8 and 10, my daughter is 5. They argue over who can run more, read something harder, eat faster, throw a pillow higher, even who will pee first. It’s driving me crazy. What do I do?

Linelle, in Ft. Lauderdale, FL

A: What should you do? Nothing, really. Competition is good for kids.

It makes adults (especially female adults) nuts a lot of the time, that’s for sure. And there are times it is not appropriate to compete. For example, “who can eat faster” puts your family on the fast track to meet your local paramedics. And “who can pee first” just isn’t pretty for anyone.

So there will be times that you will squash the competition by saying “No, that race is not happening.”

I’m wondering why this bothers you. Since I don’t know for sure, let me address the most common reasons parents hate this.

1. Competition leads to bickering. “I won.” “No, I won.” “Mooooooommmmm!” My fervent recommendation is: stay out of it! However, if the bickering is not acceptable, discuss and give consequences for that – but not for the competition.

2. The younger child hates that he “always” loses. A lot of sibling competition is unfair. The older kid often has the advantage. But that won’t last forever. You can teach your younger child two important lessons. The first is that he does not have to agree to compete. If he agrees, though, he should work on not being a sore loser. Secondly, he should look for opportunities to excel. Being older isn’t always an advantage.

3. What does it mean about my children/me/our family that everything is a contest? It means your kids are normal. And that they will have a little bit of an advantage in social situations over kids who do not have this constant learning experience at home. They will perhaps have an advantage is sports situations and academic situations as well.

Competition teaches. The winner learns how to win without over-celebrating and the loser learns how to lose without too much fuss… eventually. Kids monitor each other really well. They give honest, if harsh, criticism of poor behavior. They do not hesitate to call each other on cheating, bragging, whining. You do not need to intervene as they teach other these lessons unless the punishment is genuinely too harsh.

Here is the truth: almost all kids will learn these lessons. Your children are learning them at home instead of on the playground and that is hard to watch. But they are learning them from people who love them (each other) and who have other opportunities to show real empathy toward each other.

So grab your coffee and go into a different room. Or grab a pillow and join in.

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2 thoughts on “My kids won’t stop competing!”

  1. The thing I worry about with this is what it does to their relationship with each other. If they are constantly viewing each other as a rival to be beaten, doesn’t that drive a wedge between them. I know I don’t love or want to work together with people I am trying to beat. I want my family to view themselves a team working together, not as opponents.

  2. I think you are right. If the competition is always a “wedge issue” then I think it does the relationship fundamental harm. My premise is that it’s a) nearly impossible and b) not necessarily in the kids’ best interests to eliminate competition. The solutions then, seem to lie in both putting boundaries on the competition and fostering additional paths to bonding in their relationship. Thanks for commenting!

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