Recently my youngest child participated in a sports event, a competition. She did not do well. She came in 3rd and 4th in a class of 4 contestants, no seconds no firsts. To say she did not do well is a restatement of the outcome of the competition. If I were to use a different metric, say personal effort, she did really well. She tried her hardest. She kept her composure. She did not give up. She persevered. All traits I admire and want for her
But competition is competition. In order to learn how to be a good loser in a competition you actually have to lose. Ouch. I hate losing, and even more I hate it when my kid loses.
Here is sort of how she looked afterwards (photos not of her):
Here is how I felt like she looked (again not photo of her):
Her sadness was so hard for me. I wanted to make it all better. I wanted to give her kisses and ice cream and new toys and what ever it took to get that smile on her face again. But I know something else too. Sadness is part of life, and it sucks, but it needs to be given it time and space. It will pass quicker if we don’t distract from it but let life move us on at a natural pace. I do not need to distract my child immediately.
She was really sad after the loss. She cried. She didn’t want to go to school on Monday, but go she did. I knew we could not let her sadness rule her world. I knew that I had to be the firm anchor in her life. The voice that said “It will be OK, and the reason you know this is that life is going on just like it always has even though we are all knowing and honoring that you are very very sad.”
But I have to say one thing really rubbed me the wrong way. After she was done with the competition and she was starting to cry one of the other mothers came up to her and said, “Oh honey, what are you crying for you did great out there!” To which my daughter said, “I’m just really tired.”
So here is my take on that interaction. The woman who talked to my daughter had a similar kind of reaction to me, the very sad face and tears triggered a strong emotional reaction inside of the woman. And that reaction was uncomfortable and so she turned to my daughter and does not affirm the sadness right in front of her but instead denies it. My daughter recognizes that this is an adult who needs taking care of and so instead of owning her own feelings says that she is just tired. Ick. And bless my child for not kicking that woman in the knee.
So here is my take on competition. If you cannot tolerate to see your child lose either don’t enroll them in activities where they might lose, or get some therapy and get over it. Do not over-function for them (as in stage parents, or parents who actually do the science fair project for their child). Losing is hard. My daughter really was devastated. I was miserable. My job as a mother is to protect my children. Devastated children mean that they are not protected. My mama bear wanted to do all sorts of things to ensure that next time my daughter would not be devastated.
But we all have to learn how to lose, or at least how to deal with disappointment. And we cannot learn that without actually doing it. This is one of those hands on kind of things. You cannot learn how to deal with disappointment by simply reading about it in a book. You are going to have to get dirty.
And I think kids see right through the “You did great!” comments when they come in last.
For better or worse here is basically what I did – first I got her away from the other folks so that if she was going to lose it she could save some face. She is 9 going on 13 and saving face is important to her. And then we were alone I said to my daughter:
Mom: You look so sad. How are you feeling?
Daughter: Bummed because I really wanted to come in first, I really wanted that prize
Mom: Of course you did. Of course you are bummed, you wanted to do better. But here is what I know. If there are winners then there are losers. And usually it is more fun to be the winner. But if you are going to compete learning how to lose gracefully is important. You have the chance to learn something really important today.
Daughter: I would rather have won.
Mom: I know sweetie. And I love you. You did your very best out there and that counts for a lot. It just would have been more fun to have won. I know. And you know what you will have other opportunities. There will be other competitions. You will have another chance. Let’s see what we can do to make next time different.
Daughter: Can we go home now? I just want to be alone for awhile.
I don’t think this makes me mom of the year (remember I like to win so that thought is not far from my head). But I do think my response to my daughter was authentic and open and allowed her to be her. In the days since she has gotten over it a bit. She is still sad about the loss, but it is one thing among many. She also had “The best day of her life!”this week.
So like her I need to learn there are ups and there are downs. Sometimes we win and sometimes we loose.