“Eat your food fast, everyone else is going to finish, you are going to be last” - These words are probably the first introduction to competition in any child’s home which gets introduced by parents with all good intentions.
Every child wants to be their best, and they falter only because they are still learning a particular skill and need more practice.
By Seema Lal
It took a global crisis of the magnitude of a Pandemic to teach us that cooperation is the only way forward. It can begin only when we stop competing.
“Eat your food fast, everyone else is going to finish, you are going to be last” – These words are probably the first introduction to competition in any child’s home which gets introduced by parents with all good intentions.
Competition then begins to get associated with speed and moving ahead of everyone else to get a reward for completion and nothing to do with enjoying the process or journey. We teach our children knowingly and unknowingly that slowing down is unhealthy, coming last is failure and completion of tasks is more important than the process. And all of it is for an external reward.
One of the common arguments in support of competition is that children need to learn how to deal with success and failure and put in their best effort forward. Parents need to understand that children learn to deal with failure and learn to work harder when they are allowed to experience natural consequences of making a mistake for not putting in enough effort. If they are shielded from experiencing any criticism, correction or failure and if they are rewarded more and more for doing everything better than another, we would be raising a generation who will do anything only if they know what is in it for them. We will also see a generation that gives up way too easy, as sustaining on a task long enough without an external reward becomes difficult.
Every child wants to be their best, and they falter only because they are still learning a particular skill and need more practice. Emotional intelligence is developed when they learn to deal with all emotions – happiness, sadness, anger and fear. Bombarding children with awards, gifts, and even consolation prizes steals away from them the very pleasure of doing a task and enjoying the whole process of participation.
Childhood is not a preparation for life and children are not mere beings getting ready to live. Remember, when we ask the following question to a child “What do you want to be?” we forget that they already are.
The columnist is a Mental Health Consultant and Researcher based in Kochi. She is also Co-Founder of Together We Can. Views expressed are the columnist’s own.