09 Oct. 2020


As a parent, if you had to choose between a major of either making your child cooperative or competitive, what would you choose to instil within your child?

Take a moment to make that choice.

To advance and evolve as a society, we need to invest in cooperation rather than competition. Humans can work wonders when they work together as a team, and this is what needs to be taught to children, to use their skills in tandem so as to overcome adversities as a unit. We have all heard the story of strength in unity, wherein, a single stick can be broken easily but when a bunch of sticks come together, breaking them becomes a task. These stories have resounded over the years, but are no more visible in the current world. In the present era of cut throat competition, the idea of unity and teamwork are somewhat lost, as children are trained to be better than the best. Our lives are consumed in knowing, “how much did the other child score?”, “your sibling was so much better at studies, look how they score all A’s?”, “How come you didn’t score that much?” all these questions pit children against each other.

Competition has become a way of life in the modern world. The detrimental psychological impact that competition includes is causing stress and dissolution of self-esteem and confidence. Furthermore, it generates an external validation system, wherein, victory over the opponent becomes the motivator, rather than self-growth.

As soon as the child enters any formal education system, there is this constant competition, be it in classroom, sports or co-curricular’s, and then magically as they grow up, we expect them to be cooperative and compassionate. The race to come first, and thirst for victory, creates a dubious divide amongst the winners and the so-called losers. It is heart wrenching, that from a class of 50 probably, just one person wins, what about the rest of the majority, do they not deserve the appreciation or the reinforcement to try harder, to learn together and to win together, not in some race, but in the race of life. We need to realise and demonstrate that who comes first and who comes last does not matter as long as all of the participants have a take-away, a lesson learnt that they can cherish for life.

It is imperative that we address that competition lies on a spectrum, on one end it is adaptive, wherein children compete to know their strengths and weaknesses, and what to pursue with respect to what they are good at, on the other extreme lies the maladaptive competition, wherein, a child wants to win at all costs, by hook or by crook. Amidst these two extremes, lies a comforting ground, wherein competition is motivating and fun, and a journey towards self-improvement and not solely victory.

A parent/ guardian has a pertinent role to play, as a primary caregiver in promoting certain degrees of competition. So, how exactly as a guardian can we raise a child who is cooperative and yet the right amount of competitive?

  1. 1) Reframe competition; Introduce the idea of healthy competition
    Let the child know that competition is just an avenue to test their strengths and skills. Teach them that it does not have to be about winning or losing, it could just be about learning and having fun.
  2. 2) Avoid comparing, shift the focus on self-improvement
    One of the biggest contributors toward maladaptive competition is comparison. It’s best not to compare children with their peers and siblings, which might seed contempt. Guardians should be mindful of their child’s uniqueness and encourage them to embark on a journey of self-improvement, from good – to better – to the best.
  3. 3) Realign losing as a stepping stone to success
    Children can get highly disheartened by failure, introduce failure to them in a positive light, as an opportunity to keep trying. Teach them to acknowledge that there might be people who are better than them, and introduce alongside the importance to be able to appreciate one’s who are better than them. Tell them to connect with people from the field, to enhance their learning, and to share their own.
  4. 4) Change the narrative around competition
    Rather than enquiring how much their peers scored, ask about their performance, and their feelings around the same. Rather than saying “You should win today’s competition” try saying, “Do your best”.

Competition being a boon or bane for young children has been debatable, but it also shows a glimpse of the real world that lies ahead. Thus moderation is advisable.