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April 22, 2022 Friday 10:47:15 AM IST

How To Build Competitive Mindset in Children Without Stressing Them

Everyone wants to have the best child who will be successful in life. What is success? Who defines success? While some parents strongly believe that children should be pushed to stay on the top of things, some other argue that participation and winning in competitions should be organic and there is no need to have an agenda to achieve this. The heads of the world's top educational tutoring program say competition is the No. 1 factor for success.( 

The world was taken by a storm recently when the 25 year old Ash Barty announced her retirement from the game, while she was reigning as world No.1 .The tennis star cited physical and emotional burnout and said she has “nothing more to give”. "I said it to my team multiple times: I don't have it in me, I don't have the physical drive, the emotional want, and kind of everything it takes to challenge yourself at the very top of the level anymore," The truth of the matter is that competitive spirit is always accompanied with anxiety and stress. Each one experiences this at different levels. Instead of exploring how to build competitive spirit in children without stressing them, it is more realistic to discuss how to reduce it and tips to cope with it. 

•Catch them young: Even before they get into a competitive pursuit, it helps if children are made aware that there is competition for anything that the supply is less and demand is more. Involving them in experiences of standing in lines for movie tickets, planning to procure a commodity that’s a limited edition, critically analysing games we watch ,why a particular team won and the other lost, etc. build the mindset in the young  that effort is proportional to fruits of success. Factors like luck or good fortune are best not introduced to children as reasons for anyone’s success. 

•Let them choose their battles: Research says that children who pursue their chosen field of interest are more likely to succeed because they give it their 100% to show the world that they made the right decision. This way, they would be willing to put in more hours of effort, volunteer to stay disciplined, keep away from distractors and not give up mid-way.

•Life is not a competition: It is noticed that in many families and classrooms, every activity is a competition. Siblings and classmates are constantly pitted against each other even to do regular chores like eating lunch, reading a story, cleaning the workspace etc. This can be destructive to the spirit of healthy competition and the joy of victory. The areas of performance should be well chosen. Otherwise, undue stress will build up for insignificant issues.

•Pick up signs: As nurturing parents and teachers, one has to keep a close watch on how the child is progressing with the preparation for competition. If chronic fatigue, depression, mood swings, isolation, aggression and other negative behaviours are observed, a reality check is necessary. It indicates that probably, the child is not cut out for that race. It’s a myth that everyone who is pushed beyond a point will succeed-some burn out and give up.

•No-pain, No-Gain: Sharing with children about the unswerving habits of  successful people, the sacrifices they have made to reach the top, if possible let them have conversations with them,  watching documentaries on how effective strategies helped them achieve excellence will establish the perspective that there are no shortcuts for success. Preparing the children for the hardships they have to go through for attaining excellence is a healthy way of making them responsible for when and how they want to chart their growth.

•Anxiety is good: No competition can be faced without having butterflies in their stomach. If it is otherwise, then it is unnatural or unfair. Projecting that stress and anxiety are always bad does not complement the preparation for competitions. Children have to be made aware that the adrenaline rush can boost our performance and helps us stay focussed on the task at hand. “ People generally think of stress and anxiety as negative concepts, but while both stress and anxiety can reach unhealthy levels, psychologists have long known that both are unavoidable -- and that they often play a helpful, not harmful, role in our daily lives.”  If anxiety is overwhelming and coming in the way of normal functioning, it needs to be considered a concern.

•How much of multi-tasking? : It would be very unfair on children to expect that they perform well in all aspects of school life. If there is a promising talent in a field like cooking, music, math etc., then the child should be allowed to pursue that predominantly and manage other activities of academics, literary, cultural etc. in a balanced manner. It would be stressful for the child to excel in everything. (Only a select, gifted few can achieve this feat). We know many children who are kept busy the whole day hopping from one hobby class to another after school hours in pursuit of excelling them all. Recognise how much the child can take before it gets stressful.

•Celebrate Failures: Although we like to preach that failures are the stepping stones to success, we seldom practice it. Children’s biggest fear of facing challenges is not that they would fail, but that they would be judged because of the failure. The child could be encouraged to be consistent in his/ her efforts. There is no shame in letting our children know that we too have failed in our attempts and how it did not stop us from trying once again. Normalising failures takes away anxiety while working toward success.

•Re-define Success: Each child’s success should be based on his/her own previous performance. Sincere efforts to improve, persistent hard work without giving up, taking failures in one’s stride and display of strength of character when faced with challenges should also count as success instead of just winning at something. This naturally builds the competitive mindset as a way of life rather than a sporadic occurrence. Anything practiced regularly makes it less stressful and easier to go to the next level. ‘If you compete with others you become bitter but if you compete with yourself, you become better’.

•Surround them with Goodness: A successful child has an entire team of BELIEVERS who stand by with a strong message conveyed through their thoughts and actions-“No Matter what, we are here to Support, Protect & Love You”. There is no room for negativity, derogatory language, comparisons with anyone near and far, blaming the child and pushing beyond a point that would result in stress. Positive affirmations appreciating the effort (E.g.You have improved your vocabulary) rather than brand the child (E.g. You have become intelligent) works towards building confidence. 

Not all children are naturally competitive; it is sometimes an induced behaviour by external factors. They basically prefer to do what they like best and enjoy the most. This is the secret of developing healthy competitive mindset without stressing them- to let them foster positive self-esteem and build self-confidence gradually. As  Henry Ford has said, “The competitor to be feared is one who  never bothers about you at all, but goes on making his own business better all the time”, children should be encouraged to work on themselves, at their own pace, one step at a time. Success in whatever they do is sure to be theirs.

Anupama Ramachandra

Anupama Ramachandra, a Fulbright Scholar, is an experienced academician and Principal of Delhi Public School, Electronic City, Bangalore.

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