We need to challenge the notion that competition and children is a good thing and to ensure that we are doing our best to help children develop intellectually, and socially in ways that bring out their best potential. When children drop out, do drugs and are in need of addict help it is often from a perception of “failure” to meet or comply with standards and norms that are essentially competitive.
Concerns today that many children are falling between the cracks in our education system and failing to achieve basic numeracy and literacy skills could be an indication that making the learning experience for children essentially competitive, with a focus on children being “measured and tested” might not be the right way to go about giving children an education.
No one doubts the benefits and indeed the necessity for children to learn basic math and literacy skills to enable them to function adequately in our society, and that school should be a place in which children learn more about the world and the wider community. Children are naturally curious, sociable and energetic. When children “play” together, it is not the format of the game, so much as the opportunity for social interaction that children enjoy. Children learn about life, loyalty, friendship and relationship through play. For a child, play is serious business.
The tendency today is to restrict opportunities for “free play” in both the adult world and the childhood environment. Play has to some extent become a target of the consumer market – we are encouraged to “play” in ways that require no imagination and the ability to afford material products in order to be able to join the game. Children come to be judged by their peers by the family capacity to supply designer clothes, and the latest in technological gadgetry. Good family values are put to the test when children “must have” certain material goods or wear the stigma of social failure.
A 2001 study by Vallerand of the University of Quebec, and others, published in the Journal of Social Psychology is entitled the Negative Effects of Competition on Children’s Intrinsic Motivation. The study shows, and is confirmed by many other similar studies, that children made to learn a skill in the context of it being in competition with others, did not develop the same intrinsic interest in the subject, and desire for more knowledge and mastery as did the children told simply to do their best and look for new ideas and ways to perform the task.
Similar results have been found in conditions where adults offered the child a “reward” for task completion, rather than allowing the completion of the task to be something the child could explore as they wished, independently of a promised reward.
When children turn to substance abuse and fail to turn up at school, they are labeled truants and as being antisocial – in need of addict help that is very much conditional upon getting these children back into the system.
Is it not the enforced competition inherent in our schools that is in fact anti-social. Teaching methods that curb and restrict the natural capacity of children to be carefree and innovative almost guarantee ADHD and other acting out behaviors that discharge tension caused by an overly restricting, and punitive environment.
Holistic counseling can help deal with issues of competition and children. The notion of doing our best, rather than being the best is something that perhaps both adults and children need to relearn by using holistic counseling and getting holistic addict help.