Pros and Cons of Competition

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"Let's play again so this time I can beat you," your child says when you capture his last checker. You agree to play again, secretly wondering if your efforts to help him be a success have gone too far. His skill improves with each game, but he's too obsessed with beating you to notice. How do you teach your child the difference between being successful and being driven to win at all costs? Here's how to recognize the benefits and drawbacks of competition, and to keep your child's appetite for winning from getting out of hand.

What does my child learn from competition?
It's impossible to protect your kids from competitive situations, and you probably don't want to, anyway. Your child can learn some valuable lessons from healthy competition that will serve him well as he gets older. • The importance of playing by the rules. Five-year-olds are just starting to understand that rules are the basis of any game, says Sara Wilford, the director of the Early Childhood Center and Art of Teaching graduate program at Sara Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York. When everyone makes up his own rules, no one can play together, and the game isn't enjoyable. The earlier your child learns this lesson, the more fun he'll have playing with other children as he grows older.

• How to be a good winner and a good loser. "A good winner knows not to say 'Na Na, I beat the *@%# out of you,'" says Dee Shepherd-Look, a clinical psychologist and professor of child and adolescent psychology at California State University, Northridge. On the flip side, a good loser knows not to pout. Not only is this a crucial lesson for your child to learn, but it's also important that he learn it early in life. Six-year-olds may be able to get away with throwing temper tantrums when they lose, but 16-year-olds who throw fits are rarely tolerated. The older your child gets, the harder it is to back track and teach him to be a good loser.

• The value of giving your best effort. "It's...
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