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Competition teaches helpful skills to children

Teaching Your Child

Teaching Your Child

May 02, 2008|By LISA TEDRICK PREJEAN

Ah, spring. Buds on the trees, fresh air from outdoors, longer days, thick green grass.

It would be nice to tiptoe through the tulips if we could stop long enough to do that.

Yet the next five weeks are the busiest time of the year for most families with school-age children.

Spring sports, music recitals, academic competitions, field trips, end-of-the-year festivities ... sometimes it seems like our calendars will snap if we write down one more date.

I had to chuckle about a recent encounter I had with a childhood friend who has children about the same age as mine.

She called and left a message on a Monday. I called and left a message on Tuesday. On Wednesday, she called and left a second message. I called and talked to one of her family members on Thursday. The family member was watching the kids because my friend was out of town. My friend called back on Friday. I wasn't home. She left a message saying she'd be in and out on Saturday because of her children's games. I called early Saturday morning. She had already left. She called back Saturday afternoon just as we were walking out the door on our way to a soccer game. I told her I'd call her back on my cell phone once we got on the road. (I wasn't driving.) After a week of trying, our schedules finally coincided long enough for us to reconnect for a few minutes.

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So, you say, why bother with all this activity? Why try to do so much?

Good question. Before our children become involved in any activity, my husband and I look at the value of participating. What will our children learn? What will our children contribute? What can we do to help them succeed in this area?

I think children should participate in competitions. Many children (and their parents) like competition because they are motivated to win a prize or the recognition that goes along with it. Wanting to do well is also a worthwhile goal, and for most children that motivating factor is enough.

As adults, though, we should encourage our children to do well in competition because it trains them to perform well under pressure. Nearly everyone has to do that in today's society, at least from time to time.

Competition also teaches children that they will not always be the brightest or the fastest. Sometimes they will lose. And that's OK. Sometimes we learn more when we lose than when we win. Perhaps we need to spend more time simply appreciating the talents and abilities of others.

A few weeks ago, my 9-year-old was working on a piano piece, a vocal trio number, a speech, a math computation contest and a few other academic pursuits. She wanted to do all of them, so I helped her a little bit with this one and a little bit with that one until each competition had passed.

With each competition that my children pursue, we've researched the rules and reviewed the guidelines. This habit teaches children that preparation is key to success.

Leading up to a competition, we study or practice 10 to 15 minutes a day on that topic. Sometimes when competitions are close together and we're trying to prepare for several at the same time, it can be a little overwhelming.

At one point, I told a friend I didn't think I could prepare my kids for one more competition, but then I realized we have another one coming up next week.

As that thought was sinking in, my shoulders started to sag. Then I noticed the determined look on my son's face as he practiced the concepts over and over again.

I just decided to step out of his way and breathe.

When children start taking responsibility for the preparation work, that is a great step in the right direction. If only more adults would learn at an early age to take responsibility for their work ...

As I thought of my son's anticipation, my old friend stamina put a smile on my face.

We will endure through the next few weeks. Besides, summer will soon be here.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page.

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