Dear Mama Drama:
My son is very athletic and competitive. Regardless of the activity he is doing, he has to be the winner and will do anything to achieve that. When he wins, he pumps his fists, shouts, and jumps around. Then he endlessly recounts how great he was. He watches tons of sports and idolizes sports figures who behave in much the same manner.
Recently his behavior has been so obnoxious that other children have begun refusing to play with him. He doesn’t understand why and I’m not sure how to tell him gently.
~Crazed with Competition
Many kids are naturally competitive and that determination will serve them well in life. However, as you note, too much competition can interfere with social relationships and needs to be balanced. Helping your son understand and learn behavior that conveys respect, sportsmanship, and humility is key to finding that balance.
As you discuss this behavior with your son be sure to acknowledge that his desire for attention and recognition for his accomplishments is something everyone experiences. Also let him know his fierce competitiveness can be an asset at times. However, the way he is handling himself with his peers is disrespectful and leading to them not wanting to play with him.
Your son may not be aware of how extreme his behavior is or how it is affecting his peer relationships. Talking with him about the reasons behind his behavior (at a time when he isn’t engaging in it) will help both of you gain a better understanding. Many children who behave boastfully are actually unsure of their own self-worth and seek recognition to feel more confident.
One way to handle this is to watch sporting events with your son and talk with him about the behavior of the players. When you observe good sportsmanship, point it out and explain why you value that. When you observe poor sportsmanship, point that out as well and discuss how you and your son perceive people who act that way.
Directly teach him how you expect him to behave and give him the language he needs to handle disappointment and achievement. Practice various situations with him and pre-plan with him before he goes out to play with peers. You can read examples in columns from October and March.
Playing cooperative games where your son works together with you and/or other children to meet a goal can be an effective way to teach him other options to competition. The classic “Human Knot” game you may have played in school or at camp is a great example. If you don’t remember how to play, click here for a description and the rationale behind cooperative games. There are also a wide variety of cooperative board games that can be played by kids four and up. You can find good options at Eco Toy Town.
Your son will need practice and consistent support figuring out how to handle his feelings, how to be competitive and respectful, and when cooperation is more important than competition. Involving him in a team sport with a coach who can support these values is another good place to start.
Motherhood is an amazing journey that can have its share of Mama Drama. The Mama Drama column runs on Fridays with everyday mothering questions from readers and answers providing strategies to tackle these daily challenges. Send your questions and challenges to [email protected], and your Mama Drama could be in next week’s column! All emails and identifying information will remain confidential.