Reward schemes in schools are probably one of the most thwart with perils area that we deal with as adoptive parents and also in my workshops with schools. The level of competition and judgment that comes from the sticker charts, the star of the week, the I’ve had a better chance then you in life board, does give me great concern at times.
‘Competition is the enemy of connection’ – Emily Freeman
I wasn’t very competitive myself growing up – no strike that, I think I was but hated losing and feeling rubbish about myself, which I constantly did. I wasn’t sporty or intelligent, had no head for numbers or facts. As a result anything that required competition I opted out of. I was scared of looking stupid, having a go and getting it wrong, and I also struggled with my temper. The other children knew this and goaded me as much as possible so that I would blow.
Now I actually had a very secure upbringing with loving, available parents and all my needs met. I still somehow felt inadequate to others and often do now! How much more horrible must that feeling be to children who have not had the security I had? Who do not know that they are loved and special? Who feel that every time they fail they are a failure?
We are not all starting from the same marker. It’s like a race where we are all expected to finish together but start at completely different points. We expect our vulnerable children to somehow be able to race ahead of others who have had all they need in life to achieve.
Sport and competitions are often about more then the skill involved in the game. There’s being able to motivate yourself, conflict resolution, working as a team, overcoming obstacles, perseverance, strength of character…..the list goes on. As I read that list my heart sinks when I think of my three adopted children struggling with all those issues alongside others who may only struggle with a few.
Then they are measured against each other accordingly! How fair is that??
So what’s the answer I hear you cry? “But we have to teach them competition as that’s the way of the world”, “they won’t be treated any differently once they leave school”, “they’ll have to learn through giving it a go”, “they need to toughen up a bit”, all comments I’ve heard and I can understand where they come from but they are misguided I believe.
The problem with ignoring the early gaps in children’s development is that as they get older if we don’t try and fill those gaps then they just grow into vulnerable, dysfunctional adults. People who can’t take responsibility for their actions, people who become life’s victims or in turn neglect and abuse others. We can’t go on just pretending the past isn’t important – just move on and forget it. What children need to be able to function and compete in the world is to have good self-esteem, confidence, self-image and know what they are good at. They won’t learn all those things just by chucking them on the football field with a load of other children and expecting them to survive.
These are just my ramblings and thoughts on this subject today, but I think I will develop this more over time and write again in the hope that we might change our views on competition in general. This is the thing I love about blogging that you can start to question and formulate answers that otherwise stay locked inside. I don’t have the answers yet but as I see so many vulnerable children struggle in this area the more determined I am to find some answers.
Answers on a postcard please…