In Practice

‘You beat me! I lost!’: Children and competition

You win some, you lose some. This old adage is something that we consistently have to deal with throughout our entire lives, and the ability to win or lose gracefully is a skill that takes a lot of practice. Even as an adult, with all those years of life experience or what not, losing can still be a hard pill to swallow sometimes.

(I myself have been known to become fiercely competitive in a game of Monopoly, and I may not be the most gracious loser -or winner, for that matter – at times.)

Since moving into the Preschool Room a few weeks ago, the concept of winning and losing has been at the forefront of my mind. It didn’t take long for me to notice the competitive nature of many children in Preschool Room, where almost anything can become a competition: mine’s better, mine’s faster, mine’s bluer.

This relentless competing is quite a typical behaviour for children of this age and developmental stage: as at around 4 years old, children are becoming aware of the concept of winning, and in turn, losing. Although it takes time for a child to fully grasp the concept of winning or losing, they quickly become aware that winning is the desirable outcome, and therefore will often try to win at anything and everything.

It is so important for a child’s self-esteem for them to experience what it feels like to win. A great deal of confidence can stem from feeling like you are good at something or have been successful in something, and this confidence can help you push yourself to tackle even greater challenges.

However, there are just as many benefits from experiencing what it feels like to lose, and it is important that we are regularly exposing children to opportunities where they can develop their resilience and learn that although it’s nice to win, it’s okay to lose too.

An experience that caused me to reflect on how we can support children to become more resilient when coping with losing occurred a little while ago. When a child and I were running to the room, I just happened to get there first. Unaware I was actually partaking in a race; I turned around to talk to the child, who was now lying on the ground on the verge of tears. ‘You beat me! I lost!’ he cried.

I tried to explain that I didn’t realise we were actually racing, but it got me thinking… if I had been aware that we were racing, would I have slowed down? Or would I have continued to run faster than the child? And which would have been the better choice for me to make in that scenario?

The children in the Preschool Room have been very interested in playing a variety of different board games and card games recently, and we are finding them to be incredibly useful tools in teaching children about winning and losing, and developing their resilience as they learn to deal with both outcomes. When playing board games with children, it can sometimes be the first instinct of adults to ‘throw the game’; I guess you could call it, in order to protect the child from experiencing the disappointment of losing.

Although I understand the premise of this, ultimately I don’t feel as if I’m doing the children any favours, as whether we like it or not, losing is a big part of life and the sooner we learn to cope with that, the better.

When playing board games with the children, we’ve been trying to strike a balance between ensuring there are opportunities for children to experience the joy of a win, and also experience the frustration of losing. Teaching the children how to be a gracious winner and loser is quite simple: through winning and losing graciously ourselves (I’ve had to leave my competitive monopoly alter ego at home for this one…).

Through congratulating the children when they win, and commending their efforts when they lose, slowly but surely they will learn how to lose and win gracefully. We look forward to observing how this progresses over the coming months as we continue to expose the children to these opportunities.

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