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Taking Home the Trophy for Kindness

I got caught up in the hype, and reinforced the competitive spirit that I was tying to soothe. After a dose of self-reflection, I realized that I was part of the problem that contributed to my child’s obsession with scores, getting first and winning the title. I had to adjust my ways as a parent, and keep my eyes on the prize, that my ultimate job was to develop a person who could champion compassion, kindness and respect for others and celebrate it as much as a first place medal or trophy.

Competitiveness is in my nature. I enjoy doing a task or activity the best way possible, even if it involves extra practice, late nights or early mornings. There is something about a competitive experience that gets the heart racing and adrenaline pumping.

To be clear, this did not mean that I always was ranked the best. It is reality that all people in our lives have unique talents. Some things that came naturally to my friends, I had to work extra hard at improving. I worked hard at studying, but some people were better test takers. I practiced extra at sports, and excelled, but my friend had a natural ability and practiced too. I was fast, and my neighbor was even faster. Each time I did not place where I wanted to, the allusive top spot motivated me to work harder.

While I am a big believer in surrounding yourself with skilled people that challenge you, not every activity is judged by timers, baskets or goals. Some take a skilled eye of a person qualified to judge technique and the finer points that I can easily miss. I don’t doubt these skilled people who are trained to rank and score performance, I just, as a parent, don’t know what to look for. I think something is very entertaining, but may miss a pointed toe or posture of a dancer, a small pool entry splash by a diver or an off-key note within a choir of twenty students or more.

I have not met a competitor that likes to come in second or third; however, as a parent of competitors I have been on the end of comforting a “disappointed” one. I say things like, “considering the pool of contenders, making it into top ten is an honor.” When they are still disappointed I ask them if there is anything they could have done better – yep, typically it is too soon.

At this point the conversation turns to how we get to number one next time. I feed the beast when I ask about the top three accomplishments of the day. This is a tradition I have done for some time, and the kids are versed in sharing great test scores, winning debates or, well, other accomplishments.

Out of the mouth of babes though, often comes true wisdom. One day, when I asked Number 3 to tell me about his day, he told me how he stopped in the hallway to help a person who dropped her books. He went on to explain that he was almost late for class, but everyone else walked by and she looked upset. I paused, delaying my usual reaction of, “way to go…keep up the good work…next time you can do one point better…” It was a proud mom moment for sure. My delay was related to a moment of my own misguided parenting. I had only been asking about, celebrating and expecting to hear major accomplishments, which reinforced the “win.”

The next day I changed my routine. In addition to asking about the three best things about the day, I asked the kids to share one kind thing they did for someone else. I challenged the family to intentionally do random acts of kindness to people outside the family, and I reminded myself to celebrate a kind act, as much as a “win.”

That applied to competition weekends too. On the ride home, as Number 4 and I recapped the competition line up and placements, I asked him to tell me three non-score related highlights of the weekend. I learned that he met some new friends, he helped a competitor who forgot some black socks (we pack extra after forgetting our own a number of times) and he cheered up another teammate who did not “win.”

I cheered and congratulated him, the same way I would have if he won the title. He rolled his eyes, but he smiled, as did I. One small step for mom, one giant step toward encouraging human kindness.

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