How do you deal with a competitive child?

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My 8-year-old son is naturally competitive. I can relate to this as I’ve always been pretty competitive myself although I try to hide it!

I have often told my son that it doesn’t matter whether he wins or loses and that it’s the taking part that counts but I know that this statement goes in one ear and out the other.

Recently, he said to me that he didn’t want to go to a football party because he was afraid how he would react if he was on the losing team. He said that some of the other boys taunt him when they win and he finds this difficult to handle. When he told me this, we talked about strategies to deal with his emotions.


Rather than tell him what to do, I asked him to think about ways he could deal with the situation himself. He said that he had tried in the past to say that it didn’t matter when he was being taunted but it hadn’t helped. We went through a few scenarios, which involved more conflict so in the end, I suggested that he make an excuse to go to the toilet if he started feeling angry.

One of the things I do with my son when he gets worked up is practise mindfulness. Here are a few techniques I have used:

  • Lie down and imagine all the things you are happy about. Now imagine them coming down on you like a shower of happiness.
  • Visualisation: Softly close your eyes. Allow the picture in your mind to become blank. You are going to imagine a place that feels comfortable, safe, and relaxing. Think of your place. It might be the beach, a lake, or even your own bed. Imagine it slowly appearing before you, becoming more and more clear. Look to your left. What do you see? Look to your right. What is over there? Look closer. Breathe in. What do you smell? Walk around your place. Look closer at certain things. Stay focused on your place. How are you feeling? If you find your thoughts wandering, observe them, and then focus on bringing the image of your place back into focus in front of you. (Allow some time.) When you are ready, put your hand in front of your eyes. Open your eyes. Slowly spread your fingers to allow light in. When you are ready, slowly remove your hand.
  • Bubble meditation: Begin by sitting in a comfortable position, with your back straight and shoulders relaxed. Softly close your eyes. Imagine bubbles slowly rising up in front of you. Each bubble contains a thought, feeling, or perception.See the first bubble rise up. What is inside? See the thought, observe it, and watch it slowly float away. Try not to judge, evaluate, or think about it more deeply. Once it has floated out of sight, watch the next bubble appear. What is inside? Observe it, and watch it slowly float away. If your mind goes blank, then watch the bubble rise up with “blank” inside and slowly float away.


Another technique I try at bedtime when he finds it difficult to sleep is a body scan. This involves asking him to focus us on different parts of his body at a time starting at the feet and working up the body to the head.

I’m pleased to say that my son enjoyed the football party he went to and there were no arguments.

In addition to teaching my son relaxation techniques, I make sure that I don’t ask him about the outcome of any football, rugby or chess game too much. He recently went to a chess tournament and instead of asking him whether he won or lost the game after each match, I asked him whether he enjoyed it and whether it was a good game. The focus on the process of the game rather than winning or losing hopefully takes the pressure off him.


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Want to get your child to read more? Read ‘The Fortress’, a fantasy adventure story aimed at 7-10 year olds.


How do you deal with a child who is upset?


Managing emotions - Identifying feelings

Managing emotions – Identifying feelings (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My son fell down in the park the other day and started crying and I went straight to him, picked him up and cuddled him until he stopped crying. But am I mollycoddling my son too much and turning him into a wimp? I know that other mothers might see it this way and want their children to ‘toughen’ up.

As usual, when I have questions about my parenting style, I turn to psychological research for the answers. ‘Tuning into kids’ is a new parenting programme being run in Australia and it suggests that we should not dismiss or play down our children’s feelings. Parents are taught to accept and explore their children’s emotions rather than dismiss them. For example, when parents dismiss their children’s emotions they say to themselves that they want to change their child’s worried moods into cheerful ones. However, according to research, it is better for parents to try to understand why their children are worried and to find out what their children are thinking. According to Gottman and colleagues (1997), parents should be aware of their children’s emotions and help their children to understand and label their emotions. It may be hard for parents to accept their children’s strong emotions such as anger and jealousy but it is important to try to empathise with them. If parents can learn to deal with their children’s strong emotions, children feel validated. Parents can also use it as a time for getting closer to their children and to teach their children how to solve problems. Gottman and colleagues found that when parents coach their children in emotions, the children have fewer behaviour problems and better social skills.

Havighurst et al. (2010) compared 4 and 5-year-old children, whose parents had been taught emotion coaching (the ‘Tuning into kids’ parenting programme) with children whose parents had not been taught how to tune into their children’s emotions. The children whose parents had been taught emotions coaching had a much better understanding of different types of emotions and they also had fewer parent- and teacher-reported behaviour problems six months later.

This research suggests that I should continue to comfort my son when he is upset and not worry about making him independent. I do find it hard sometimes to deal with my son when he is angry but I have to remind myself to accept his strong feelings. Having read this research, when my son said he didn’t want to go to his new preschool a couple of weeks ago, I said to him that I understood that he was worried. I also resisted the temptation to say that he would be fine and instead told him that I had felt worried on my first day at school too. Acknowledging his worries seemed to make him much more willing to go into the new preschool and as I said in a previous post, he told me afterwards that he had enjoyed himself.

‘Psychology for parents: Birth to teens’ is for sale as an e-book on Amazon,, Barnes and Noble, Kobobooks and Apple ibookstore.