What’s Wrong With Having Competitive Kids?

By Jessica Grose/Opinion Writer /The New York Times

My most repeated parental cliché is “everything is not a competition.” I say it at least once a day, when my children are doing something like racing down a path, jostling each other out of the way. It’s also a frequent refrain when one of my daughters declares that someone in her class is better at something than she is (long division, basketball, being taller). I usually add that if a skill is important to them and they want to improve, they need to work hard at it. My husband prefers the more poetic “comparison is the thief of joy.”

Both of my kids dismiss these admonitions. Typically my older daughter will respond, “Everything is a competition.” She tends to stymie me with questions and observations that reveal she is both personally motivated by competition and has her own ideas about its intrinsic value.

For example, earlier this year, my daughter described some kind of school-play situation where the biggest role was split up and parceled out somewhat randomly between three students, which she declared “unfair.” Mind you, she wasn’t even participating in the play, she just observed the result and asked me: “What if some of those kids stink at acting? Shouldn’t the part be given to the best one?” I told her that the teachers were probably just trying to give everyone a chance to participate, and that’s a good thing. She’s only 9, so she doesn’t know the word “patronizing,” but I would say that’s how she felt about both the doling out of parts and my response.


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August 2022