The Competitive Four Year Old

Could it be that all kids at this age are obsessed with competition? I can’t say for sure, but I do know that The Narrator turns everything into a race or a game of some kind. He’s got it bad too. If he thinks that he has ‘lost’ something he’ll sometimes degenerate into a temper tantrum.
On the surface, this might seem annoying, but it is a rich environment for teaching moments as well as opportunities to magnificently twist his desire for competition into productivity.

At least a half dozen times a day he’ll declare that “We’re going to have a race!” And we’ll be dragging Hot Wheels cars or Thomas engines down the hallway and back a few times. We, of course let him win the bulk of the time, he is only four after all. But every now and then when he decides that the race might be too close for comfort- he’ll cheat. And when he cheats, I beat him at his own game. Usually badly.

The reason for this, I tell him, is that if he doesn’t want to play fair, he’s going to lose. The results are that the cheating has lessened significantly. He still gets upset if he loses, and we’re working on the lesson that ‘you can’t always win.’

For some reason, this one is harder to teach than the ‘don’t cheat’ lesson. I know everyone likes winning, and when you’re four, losing a Hot Wheels race down the hall is the end of the world. I’m not trying to squash his love for competition, but I am at least trying to teach him that he’s going to lose at things from time to time, and its not a signal that the universe is going to terminate in a timey-wimey disaster.

On the upside, his difficulty grasping the concept of loss is playing into our hands at dinner time. The kid is, or WAS one of the epic picky eaters that all parents dread. We have discovered that if we put a stopwatch up for a minute or to for each bite of “Something I don’t want” and declare that daddy will be the winner if the time runs out- he’ll shovel damn near anything we ask him to into his mouth and eat his dinner in less than half the time that he would if we left him to his own devices. Not only that but there are no tears, no screaming, whining, or sounds that haven’t been heard on this earth since the Spanish Inquisition.

So, we’re in the middle of a delicate balancing act. Instill in him the idea that he’s not going to win everything he sets out to, but at the same time stoking his desire for competition and winning just enough that dinner time in our house becomes bearable, and not the single most dreaded time of the day. All without confusing him to the point where he shuts down on us.

Wish us luck.

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