When your child always wants to be the ‘Top Dog’


Dear Adele,

Our young son seems obsessed with winning! Everything turns into a competition and he loves to loudly boast of winning. This seems to be the case in everything from his team sports to family boardgames. Sometimes when he does not win or sees that there is little likelihood that he will win, he withdraws from the game and dramatically quits. We are unsure what we have done to make him so competitive, and so intent on being the ‘Top Dog’ in everything he does. We know this will not serve him well. Can you share your ideas about how to make him a more gracious loser, and a more modest and humbler winner?

Winning Isn’t Everything


Dear Winning Isn’t Everything,

Let me help you win in guiding your son with his highly competitive streak. He is like a lot of children who have learned that winning brings rewards and that losing is not the preferable status. When kids have a talent or an edge in a game, they may attempt to show off their new physical or analytical skills. When they see other children win and gain recognition, it can often make them try harder. When a child wins at something it can improve his/her self-confidence.

But sometimes this competitive streak dominates their thinking and can result in decisions to cheat, attempts to change the rules, or arguments to stop a loss. This attitude of winning, no matter what, can result in the loss of friends and family, who will try to avoid playing games with the overly competitive one who is boastful in a win or sore in a loss.

You might be wondering why your child is like this? Understand that some of it might be just the basic personality of the child. Some children thrive on competition while others shy away from it. It might also be that parents and coaches encourage this attitude by getting annoyed when a child fails to meet their expectations for performance in a game. Sometimes the child’s performance may be compared to that of others. In that scenario the youngster learns to feel that he/she needs to win in order to get the approval of parents and coaches by being better than others. The results, says Karen Horsch in ‘Kids Who Just Gotta Win’ is “kids who will try to win at all costs or who quit trying altogether.”

What we need to do, says Julia Savacool in ‘Win Some, Lose Some’, is emphasize that effort is more important than outcome and that everyone is winning as long as they are having fun. Children must come to understand that winning is being your best possible self and that there is always room for improvement.

Dr. Hillary Levey Friedman in ‘Playing to Win: raising children in a competitive culture’ writes “Teaching resilience now, sets kids up for success, because they learn that failure isn’t the end of the world. It’s just a chance to try again.”

Listed below are a few strategies Winning Isn’t Everything, that you can integrate into your parenting repertoire which might help with this problem:

  • Stay calm and model how to win and lose well.
  • Teach your child about luck and chance.
  • Teach your offspring the importance of effort over outcome.
  • Choose activities that emphasize building skills instead of winning, such as biking, dancing and art projects. Try cooperative games rather than competitive ones sometimes.
  • Help your progeny set goals for his own personal performance so that he can measure progress.
  • Teach good sportsmanship, and control of emotions in either a win or a loss at home. Allow no gloating and no tantrums. End activities with statements such as “Good game!” or “I had a fun time!” or “Great effort!”
  • Practice good sportsmanship at home with boardgames. Play by the rules. Do not bend the rules or throw the game. Agree on any rule changes in advance and practice fair play.
  • ‘Talk it out’ ahead of time and discuss various scenarios regarding winning and losing at any activity.
  • Teach empathy and help your child understand the impact of poor sportsmanship on others.
  • Praise effort and emphasize fun and learning.
  • For the under eight crowd two good books come to mind on this subject which you can read and discuss: ‘I Want to Win’ by Sue Graves and ‘Rainbow Fish- you can’t win them all’ by Marcus Pfister.

I will conclude with a few quotations which might help to inspire you, Winning Isn’t Everything.

It’s not about winning or losing a competition. It’s about beating the doubt from within yourself and knowing at the end of each day, you are one step closer to your goals.” — Jonathan Horton

Sometimes the fight isn’t about who wins or loses; it’s about what we’ve learned, when it’s all said and done.” — Alex and Ani

It’s not about winning or losing; it’s how you play the game.” — Grantland Rice

Sincerely, Adele

I'm looking forward to your questions! Email me at maryadeleblair@gmail.com and please put Heart to Heart in the subject line. Note that all columns will remain anonymous.

Photo: RoboMichalec, Pixabay