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Competition: Why Kids Need to Learn How to Win and Lose

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I was recently shortlisted for a prestigious blog award. Yay! Today I discovered I hadn't made the final. Sniff. Yes, I'll admit to tears of defeat at the kitchen sink when I should have been scrambling my daughter's egg.

The little one was too young to notice but my three year-old picked up on my grump that night. 'Why are you so sad?' he asked when I couldn't muster the funny voices I usually bring to his bedtime story.

'I entered a competition and didn't win,' I found myself telling him before I had the chance to think about it. My son went quiet. Competition is a serious business for him - saying he has a competitive streak is like saying Mr Tumble likes primary colours.

'Was it a race?' he asked, frowning.

'It was a competition to be the best,' I replied, mind whirring about where I was going with this. What's the policy on competition amongst children these days? It doesn't feel like a very earth-motherly concept. Last I heard, a study commissioned by Marylebone Cricket Club and the Chance to Shine charity suggested that most school children would be 'relieved or not bothered' if games were no longer competitive. I muttered something about it being the taking park that counts and got my Gruffalo on, but my son was having none of it.

'But you are the best,' he said incredulously.

At what, I have no idea but the belief in his eyes made me feel champion.

As he drifted off to sleep I tried to get my head around the role of competition in his life. He'll be starting school later this year. As an August baby, he'll be one of the youngest in his year and I'm steeling myself for the struggles that may bring. A part of me shrivels at the thought of him competing and being compared to older, more capable classmates. It's not fair, I want to shout. They've got a head start!

What am I worried about? It's not that I want him to be the best - that's a given ;-). It's more that I want him to enjoy taking part. He's such a confident learner at home, where everything he achieves comes with a fanfare. But what will happen when he's surrounded by a class of older, more advanced students - will he stop bringing his A game? So far, he's never knowingly taken part in a race he knows he can't win. Losing just isn't something he's ready for in my opinion. This part of me shuns competition, grading or any sort of judgement from his early education.

Yet another part of me knows that my son thrives under competition - nay, depends on it for the simple business of getting stuff done. This part of me hopes that if he's mucking about in class a wise teacher will put aside political-correctness and gee him along with a challenge. How else do they plan on getting him to change for P.E. or sit still for a second? Good luck with that...

I'm also hoping competitive sport will teach him the art of perseverance. Life can be a losing game at times. 'Keeping on at keeping on' is hard, but I'm hoping all that good stuff can be improved with practise and my son will come to appreciate the grit behind the glory.

Grace in defeat is another biggie. The sooner my son realises it's no fun being a bad loser, the better. It took me till I was in my twenties for my sister to teach me how to be happy for other people - and how this can even take the sting out of personal defeat. Who knew life could be double the fun when you celebrate your peers' victories as well as your own?

So yes, on balance, although I'm dreading my son's realisation that not everything he does is medal-worthy, bring on the competition. I was absolutely gutted not to have got through to the final in my contest today - wow, defeat burns, doesn't it? For a few hours there I wondered about the point of taking part. But then I remembered other times I've had to pick myself up and carry on. Sometimes I've gone on to make a success. Sometimes I haven't. But in all cases, competing has taught and motivated me more than the end result. It's not just the taking part that counts. Being inspired to strive and do your best is where it's really at.

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