I am a competitive person at heart, as I know a lot of you gifted adults and kiddos are. As a child, we regularly had epic games of Risk or Monopoly stretch across days. Family gatherings usually involved competitions of some sort. A few years ago, I even unearthed the score sheet from a family card game which my 9-year-old-self thought necessary to archive forever and ever. In fairness, I did trounce my older family members quite handily, and I’ll confess, that my 30-something-self smiled a little in fond memory of my victory.
I find competition motivating. Have a boring chore that needs to get done? Add some competition to the mix and it’s game on! And because I, personally, find competition so motivating, I often bring in a bit of friendly competition to my family life. And then I quickly, though not quickly enough to stop it, confront why I hate competition. Correction. I hate competition with my particular 3 fringy children.
This week’s escapade is a typical example of how it goes. We had some tidying, purging, and cleaning up to do. So, my less-wise-self thought, “Let’s make it a game!” My even lesser-wise-self decided to spice it up even more by adding a prize. It wasn’t a big prize, but it was a prize nonetheless. The kid who filled their garbage can first, got to choose what game we played. Seems simple enough.
Picture me, doe-eyed and naïve, ready to win mom of the year for finding a fun way to clean the house, standing in front of the kids like an eager camp counselor. My enthusiasm is contagious and the fervor and excitement electrifies the air. The countdown begins . . . 3 . . . 2 . . . 1 . . . and their off!
Picture me, bedraggled and seething with my own self-contempt (how could I ever forget it always ends like this?!), covering my ears to block out the whines, cries, and screams while simultaneously yelling at my kids to just finish the game. “Stop worrying about what your brother is or isn’t doing!” “What do you mean there’s no more garbage?! I can see 5 wrappers laying on the countertop from here!” “You definitely won’t win if you just give up!”
Competition is motivating to my 12-year-old. But, he’s the oldest. So, naturally, he has superior skills than his 9-year-old-differently-abled sister, or 4-year-old brother do. But, the competition is strong in this one and there’s no backing down. I will work in handicaps, but even still, the 12-year-old is relentless and has an uncanny ability to just block out the whines and cries of unjust playing field emanating from his siblings and keep plugging away until he wins.
Meanwhile, my 9-year-old has absolutely zero frustration tolerance. Ok. She’s working on it. Maybe she can tolerate frustration for about 1 minute now. Whatever. It isn’t long enough to handle the frustration of not being able to keep up with the older brother. And the excitement of possibly winning a prize decreases her window of tolerance, so anytime competition enters the house, she’s in meltdown mode within a few minutes and the rest of us hear a lovely serenade of the unfairness and injustice of it all. She, of course, never gets to pick a game. And never wins anything. And Cub cheats because he finds bigger things to throw away than her.
And then the 4-year-old just buzzes around excitedly until the noise from the catastrophic exaggerator hits his eardrums, and his hypersensitive hearing feels assaulted and he starts screaming at KBear to stop screaming. During which time, Cub continues to run hither and thither gathering large pieces of things to throw away (I take a moment to admire his strategic mind), and I try to convince Chimp to just leave the room and carry on finding things to clean and purge.
Every. Single. Time. No matter what I add competition to, it ends this way. My husband, who has not a single competitive bone in his body, just sits back and laughs. Which irks my competitive side and makes me want to show him that this competition thing will work, dammit!
Alas, I must resign myself to just stop this insanity already. Let’s keep the competition to sports, board games, and auditions, and teach them appropriate ways to manage all the ginormous feelings associated with competitiveness. Even as I type this, the competitive part of me raises her voice to cringe just a little. I’ve vowed off of competition as motivator before, but still find myself repeating the silly cycle all over again. Unless . . .
Betcha I can make it a whole year before unnecessarily adding competition into my home.