Sunday, 10 June 2012

Healthy competition...or is it?

Mini has this competitive streak. Nature or nuture? Well, not the time for that particular debate, but we know that Mini has a number of birth siblings, and although he would never have experienced a competitive situation in the birth home, I do wonder if there is an inbuilt part of him that says he must fight to be the best…only the strongest survive right?
Equally, the NC and I are also quite competitive (him more so of course). We have both participated in activities and life challenges where we have needed to have that quality. I have actively competed in music festivals and without that competitive streak and ambition (and obviously some talent) I wouldn’t have won the number of events that I have.  The NC had to compete to get a sponsorship for university, and his field of work is quite small, so he’s had to strive and push to get work. He’s also taken part in races where you need to be competitive in order to win, it’s not always just about the taking part!

So in some ways poor Mini hasn’t got a chance has he? All this competition around him, some was bound to rub off.

But, we’ve always been careful not to encourage this ‘quality’. We are both aware that too much of it can be nasty, and can turn to aggression, and in children who aren’t able to regulate their emotions, it can lead to many more problems especially when they don’t win. Let’s face it, there aren’t many young children about who like to lose are there? And although a healthy dose of ambition is great, it can be at the expense of other qualities, and much much more.

Mini appears to have competitiveness by the bucket load. Everything is a race or a competition. Mini has to be the best, tallest, oldest, have the most grapes, eat the last biscuit, open the door first, eat the fastest, get upstairs first, brush his teeth fastest, get in the car quickest, stand at the front, have the most toys or presents, run furthest…the list goes on and on. Sometimes he wants more because he’s 5, and Dollop’s 2, sometimes, it’s just….because!
The NC and I regularly remind him that these things aren’t races, it doesn’t matter who does these things first, as long as everyone is safe and happy. But this hasn’t yet sunk in, Mini still needs to be the best.

Mini and Dollop racing at the park

We have problems when Mini doesn’t win, or isn’t first. Then of course when we say ‘come on then, you can still go upstairs first’ he won’t come, he’ll just tantrum. So you go to move first, and the tantrum gets even louder and before you know it he’s raging, thrashing and hitting everyone in sight.
Or we’ll get to the end of a meal, which has been going really nicely and all of a sudden, without trigger or warning Mini will start crying ‘but I wanted to be first at finishing’. And again, within seconds he’s crying, teetering on the brink of a meltdown.
He’s been really enjoying games since the start of the year – Jenga, Home Run, Coppit; but as this competitive streak grows, so does that poor loser inside of him.

Mini is particularly competitive towards Dollop. Again, we’ve never encouraged this. I have never wanted to play my children off against each other because as far as I can see it can only lead to problems. I never want one to feel better or more important than the other. But there are times when others have said ‘look, Dollop’s eaten all of her sprouts up, can’t you be a good boy and do the same’ or ‘look, Dollop’s already got her shoes on ready to go, come on, stand still and we’ll get yours on too’.  And we’ve probably used this a handful of times out of desperation in certain situations.

There’s an interesting theory that says competition is linked to the urge to survive. In order to survive, we need to compete with others for resources – food, water and basic survival needs. Another theory states that as we ascend the evolutionary hierarchy that this becomes less of a basic instinct and is a learned behaviour.
Just thinking back to what we know about traumatised brains and their development got me thinking about whether Mini’s competitiveness is linked to his basic instinct – to survive. This is what -when under threat or in an anxious state- lots of our children go back to – their primal brain; the bit that deals with fear, and whose main function is survival.

So is Mini displaying this competitive streak because he is just trying to cope and survive with the world around him?
Or does he genuinely feel the need to compete with Dollop to get our attention – he certainly gets that. Most of the time the attention is negative, but Mini doesn’t care about that, to him it’s just attention. Despite all the positive attention lavished upon him, he still craves more, he needs to know that we’re not forgetting about him.
It’s not even about a sense of achievement when he ‘wins’ these things. He doesn’t acknowledge that he’s first, fastest etc. If he was getting this great sense of achievement upon winning, then I’d support or maybe even encourage it a little – after all that would be good for his sense esteem and confidence. But it’s not.

So how do we stop it? It’s getting ridiculous. Can we stop it? Should we stop it? How can we lighten it so it’s less aggressive? How can we help Mini learn that losing is part of the process, we can learn from it, and that life isn’t always going to let you win?

Any ideas?

1 comment:

  1. Both my boys gets animated, aggressive, forceful in their desire to be first or the best at things and they perceive not being the best/first as a complete failure(there seems to be no in between). I think the winning position seems so important to our children because it's a place which makes them, in their eyes, more acceptable/lovably/likeable to those around them. As I have two children at it, competing with each other, I see it at as sibling rivalry to a point. But the truth is the intensity of this competition is often, wearing and completely exhausting.
    I obviously continually promote the delights of taking part..not winning and vilify showing off, gloating. I try my hardest to be as fair as possible making sure turns are taken in all activities. If in a small space with them I resort to silence or separation. If they're in the garden I leave them to sort it out themselves. I think at the age Mini is he is definitely asserting himself. If it's any consolation my two have started to turn a corner. The oldest especially backs down when he sees that arguing over who is player one on the Wii (only limited play allowed) could result in mummy saying "if you can't decide then you wont get to play". I have to watch he isn't always the one relenting but I think we are getting there. Maybe try to ignore some of Minis competitive behavior and praise Dollop for her effort. As you say sometimes negative behavior is as good as any. I have found ignoring is a powerful tool, if not very difficult. Hope this helps. Having read lots of your blogs it sounds like you are doing a great job.