Obsessed about winning/being first? Here’s what to do?

Winning has become “the” most basic survival strategy in any game for my son these days. If not winning, the game is just not working out, and so are the friends. Failing to do so, and my son and even some of his friends, in the same age bracket, burst into tears, start fighting, throw tantrums or worse, even end up hitting and pushing each other, to vent out their frustration.

What is this thing about “winning” suddenly? Why such a big deal about “being first”, all the time?

“It cannot be from me”, I thought in my head one day because I’m pretty chilled out that way. You see, I don’t think about “winning” anything at all, ever in life, so wondered how wrong genetics passed on. I happily concluded that my son was turning borderline lunatic, taking it on from the “man of the house”.

Well jokes apart, I did initially think that something was a problem, when I got respite from other parents quoting the same.

Well, I then happily concluded that all children aged 3-5 were borderline lunatics or rather tyrants of sorts, until I had a more stable and better validation from the experts. For the sake writing this blog, I read and also asked a couple of child psychologists’ as to why that sudden obsession of being the winner, in every game overpowers a four year old?

The only explanation or the words to pacify me were that “The desire to be first is perfectly, developmentally appropriate for three-five year olds.”

So much for explanation!

Apparently, the kids, especially the preschoolers are trying to be doers. Suddenly, they experience competence more than before. In short, the “being-able-to-do-everything” bug gets on them and spirals their interest in doing things independently. It’s nothing wrong, but makes them a tad bit egocentric in process (but that’s only this phase).

They get a better hang of things by the time they reach 6 or 7 years of age. Till then, they cannot wrap their heads into thinking as to why they cannot be “firsts”! They will not be able to imagine putting anyone else’s interests before theirs. In fact, considering other’s perspective will look like compromising with their own, something which preschoolers are not good at and so they cannot handle failing or “not-being” firsts at this stage.

Having said that it’s a phase, yet as parents we can do a little bit more with this informed decision to make sure this habit doesn’t become an obsession or to a point, where your child is unable to handle rejection/failure. Basically, this habit or obsession with being a winner, can spiral in a negative way, making one a narcissist as well. Hence, sharing some of suggested tips to work upon.

  1. Be more specific with praise:-No matter how much you may believe your child to be an angel, yet avoid the need to put it into words. In short, rather than praising for everything, better be more specific and reasonable with it. For e.g. instead of being “you are very good”, be a little bit more specific like, “you were good with cleaning up your room today or you were good with finishing your meal”. These specific dialogues on praise make the child relate goodness with specific elements. Whereas statements like “you are good” are very vague and don’t suggest about the goodness related to a specific thing. To elaborate, general praise doesn’t mean much and sounds less meaningful than a compliment on certain achievement.
  2. Try and praise the “present”:- avoid talking in terms of using “Never” or “Always” in a sentence like “you always behave like this” or “you never help me”. Instead complimenting, while emphasizing on the present, like “You played really well today”, or “You painted the picture really well today”, allows a child to keep it in mind about the specific good work at that point of time.
  3. Don’t be a miser with praise:-Praising excessively can even backfire in a way that a child may become either obsessive about being “perfect” all the time and crave compliments or simply get into the phase of depression, when not adequately praised or even consider the false praises to be hollow and meaningless after a while. Honestly, kids don’t need a lot of praise to build ego or self-esteem. Just acknowledging their efforts (irrespective of the output) is fine. It’s difficult to say how much or how little, that balance is something that you have to consciously build as a parent.
  4. Teach them the golden rule of appreciating others:-The best part is to teach the kids about the golden rule of appreciating others, just the way they would expect others to appreciate them. The more we teach the children to empathize with others, the more we will be able to teach kids to think from other’s perspective.
  5. Lower the “perfectionist” standard:- As a parent, when raising children, parents often see them as a beacon of shining hope, who are meant to fulfill their unfulfilled dreams. No matter, how much you desire, you unnatural demands and your definitions about “good” and “bad” may take a toll on your child’s mental health, so refrain from all this. Try and appreciate things, in their imperfect state as well. After all, nobody is perfect and so if we understand that all children cannot be geniuses, we will be able to appreciate every little thing in them. Being ordinary and average is as wonderful and positive as life, per se (which is also as plain as we see). If we as parents, lower our benchmark of “perfection” for them or for our life, we will be able to relax and enjoy life and our children, a little bit better. The ability to accept failures and take them with a positive stride and move one is the best gift that we can pass on to our children.

The constant labelling of what a “good” boy does or does not, affects the child’s way of feeling, thinking and even acting. When children hear these statements of what is “good” and “bad” from parents or teachers, they start believing how important it is to co-operate in order to live up to the image of “good” child. Mere questions like “what will others think?” makes them cautious and vulnerable for the rest of their lives. They become mere puppets of good behavior, emulating perfect actions/behaviors in situations, when they actually don’t have to.

As I end this write up, I would emphasize that over praise can sometimes lead to “good child” syndrome, where the child feels compelled to be acknowledged for everything he/she does. This can be a cause of concern as this perpetual state of thought of being praised, can spiral into poor resilience.


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