From the Superintendent’s Seat:
Coping with Competition
Competition has become the name of the game. Years ago, it was a common goal to get into college. But that was years ago. Now, it’s not just about getting into a good college, but emphasis is stronger than ever to get into the “best” college. While no one is going to deny that an Ivy League or “near-Ivy” education can serve you well, history has shown that successful people come from all levels of education. Parents need to decide just how much emphasis they want to put on winning a place at the top.
Unfortunately, the competition for achieving these objectives begins younger and younger. How can parents help their children to achieve their potential without getting too overwrought in the competition that can take away from the pleasures of childhood and can also result in damage to a child’s self esteem?
The best guidance we can give our children is to encourage them to do their very best, and consistently assure them that we are proud of them when they demonstrate their best effort. Celebrate their accomplishments with enthusiasm and appreciation whether they are number one, two, or thirty. Try to downplay competition at least while they are still in elementary school. Our children will meet no shortage of people who may outperform them in any and every aspect of life—academics, athletics, the arts, socially, and on and on. As parents we need to be our children’s most ardent supporters and let them know that they are always number one with us. However, it would be irresponsible to intimate that all competition is negative. Schools offer many activities that focus on competition, and participation in these events, especially in middle school and high school, gives students an opportunity to have tangible accomplishments that are reasonable measurements for how they compare with their peers.
Competition can provide rewards for their effort and hard work and can also show students when they need to try harder. Competition to achieve also serves as a powerful motivation for students to do their best.
We have often said here that one of the surest ways we can help our children to succeed is to help them find something to pursue in which they have abilities, talent, and a powerful interest. There will always be the handful of top students who seemingly excel at everything across the board. But if your child has one important area in which he or she can feel special and accomplished, that child will be better prepared to face the competition in school and beyond. We can’t shelter our children from the competitive nature of our society. But we do need to let them know that there is room for many, many winners in the game of life. Let’s prepare them to do their best and let them know that we are always on their team.#
Dr. Hankin is Superintendent of Syosset Central School District.