Q: How do I teach a five-year-old boy to not throw an unholy fit every time he loses because he’s “bad at everything and never can do it and it’s the baddest day in the whole world and my worst nightmare!!!”?
I don’t know how qualified I am to answer this particular question, since I’m not a terribly competitive person. I’m probably the least-competitive person in the world, in fact! If there was a competition for non-competitiveness, I would totally win that contest! Give me my trophy now!
OK, maybe I’m a little competitive.
Here’s a thing I have noticed: Five-year-old boys are mysterious creatures. When I was five, I dreamt about being either a Muppet or a semi-truck driver. Because I thought it looked pretty cool to drive a vehicle, and to be able to sleep in that same vehicle when I was done driving, and some semi-trucks have beds in the back. If I could have been Kermit the Truck-Driving Frog, that would have been great.
Nowhere in that equation was a competitive urge. I didn’t want to be the best Muppet, nor the best truck driver. I just wanted to be.
Personally, I believe competitiveness is better for kids when it’s not a binary choice: one winner and one loser. You hear phrases like: “It’s a cut-throat world.” “Dog eat dog.” “If you ain’t first, you’re last, Ricky Bobby.” And that’s not true. You can be second. You can be third. Fourth, heck, even fifth.
There are shades of gray, not just black and white. And there’s lots of room to just be good at stuff.
Millennials get a bad rap for getting “participation trophies” their whole lives. I don’t know how that’s the kids’ fault. They just received them, from their parents who came up with the concept, and now hold it against their kids for believing them when they told them that, “Trying is good enough!” “All that matters is that you have fun!”
But I digress.
I also think this marks a key difference between youth today and children from previous generations. Trying does mark a certain level of success, because it means they showed up. And fewer and fewer people show up anymore.
We lead busy lives, and people are building walls up between themselves and everyone else. So, yeah, it is a success story that you get your kids to soccer practice on time. We’re all so busy on social media now, yelling at strangers and asking them if the “truth hurts” in a really obnoxious manner.
So that’s my first bit of advice. Keep your five-year-old away from the Internet. Ain’t nobody winning there.
Secondly, I would try to encourage his desire to “win” while redirecting it slightly toward seeking success. Learn to be good at something, because that’s more important than wins and losses. Quite often, a bad team beats a good team in professional sports. Because luck. Endeavor to be good, consistently, at something. Anything. That only comes with practice and commitment. And along the way, you’re going to lose. A lot.
Michael Jordan once said this: “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
You’re going to need to explain who Michael Jordan is to your son, first. Tell him it’s the basketball player, not the bad guy from Marvel blockbuster “Black Panther.”
Then make certain your son understands that it’s not the amount of times we lose in life that matters, it’s how we react to our losses. Learn from them, and never lose the same way twice.
And if that doesn’t work, just point out that when we lose a game, that means we get to stop playing a game you probably weren’t enjoying too much, since you were losing. Go do something fun! Eat cotton candy until you’re sick! Run around with scissors!
As you can see, I’m kind of the best at this dad advice stuff. Send me more questions! And I will crush them!