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Why Kids Are So Competitive -- and How Parents Can Teach Fairness

Steps Parents Can Take to Teach Fairness

Here are some smart steps you can take to tame over-the-top competition and teach fair-mindedness.

  • Emphasize personal best. Encourage your 7-year-old to improve his swim time, not to beat the rest of the swimmers; urge your 14-year-old to get a higher score on his next algebra test, not a perfect 100.
  • Buy thoughtfully. When kids ask for the latest gear, make sure it's not something they can use to show up their peers. If they have a good reason for wanting a new gadget or outfit, offer to split the cost or buy it for their birthday or a holiday.
  • Discuss your family's values. If your child complains that other kids are getting extra time for tests, explain that special accommodations are designed for those who truly need them. Anybody else who uses them is cheating -- and your family doesn't cheat.
  • Talk about role models. Point out when two opposing football players collide then help each other up. Likewise, call attention to a player who celebrates a sack with an unsportsmanlike dance.
  • Ask the right questions. Don't give subliminal messages about winning. Ask what your child is learning at school, not how she did on tests; ask how he felt about the game, not who won; ask whether the party was fun, not who was there and what they wore.
  • Refuse to keep score. If you say you're jealous of Aunt Janet's new car, you'll teach kids to judge others by what they have. Cheer for your kids, but don't analyze missed opportunities or keep a log of their race times. If your school has a grade-tracking Web site, visit it sparingly, and limit your child's visits to no more than once a day.

Originally published in the October 17, 2008, issue of Family Circle magazine.