Today was Sam’s first tryst with competition.
He took part in solo singing competition, and didn’t win any prize. This was different from all the competitions he participated in till date. In his first year, everyone got certificates. If any student didn’t win in existing categories, they created a new category to make him/her win! In his second year, everyone got gold medals. At 2 years & 3 years, the management thought that participation & encouragement is more important than performance! But now at 4, this management decided that mollycoddling has to stop & they need to understand what they’ll have to face all their lives.
I’ve had numerous discussions with a friend on whether this is helps or harms? Obviously since I’m very competitive, I supported the help side of the argument. She completely focused on the harms – how it could drive children mad (with obsessive mothers forcing them to do things) or drive insecurity (why don’t I ever get a prize / I’m not good enough?) or develop stage fright (I don’t want to go on stage & perform again to lose). We didn’t meet eye-to-eye on any aspect till we agreed that, “It’s the parents that determine if their kid perceives this as a good thing in their lives or bad!” And then she added, “you’ll definitely drive Sam nuts when it comes to competitions!”
There was no recall of this discussion – when as is wont – I analyzed the competition as I waited for Sam. Where did we go wrong, what did I learn from the winner’s performance, how can we get better next time etc. Mostly this was self reflection & at no point I thought I’ll discuss this with Sam. Also because, when he came out he seemed happy. He congratulated two of his friends who won prizes. (I’m so proud of him because I couldn’t get myself to congratulate the mother’s of the kids!)
We reached home & he told me he was feeling very sad because he didn’t get a trophy! An icy knife tore through my heart at this (you had to see his teary eyes to know that I’ve not simply used hyperbole). The discussion with my friend suddenly was all I could think of. Will I,
- Make him complacent (you did well, the judges were wrong, they were partial etc.),
- Make him insecure (others were better than you, you didn’t do actions, your voice isn’t clear) or
- Motivate him (there’s always a next time, you were awesome – next time do better etc.)
Deciding that I’ll motivate him, I sat and explained what I was reflecting post the result announcement (a watered down version of it). I told him how he did a great job (he sang a 2.5 minute song without forgetting even a single word) & how I messed up with song selection (Marathi song which didn’t engage the audience). I explained to him why the kids who won – won! After the result discussion, I underscored the importance of how him doing the best is more important than winning. I told him this is an opportunity to learn & become better in the next competition. I thought I got through to him when he listened intently for 30 minutes of my monologue. In the end, he said, “Mom, I understand all you said but I’m still feeling sad.”
With nothing up my sleeve, I bribed him with a cake & a trophy I had in my house! Seeing that trophy, he had a twinkle in his eye. He showed it to everyone in the house, put it nicely in his cupboard & slept peacefully in the afternoon. I don’t subscribe to the way I’ve handled this, but I think that making him happy seemed a more important deal than making him realize “everyone can’t win.”
As I saw him sleeping, I thought about everything competitions can teach – sportsman spirit, grit, being innovative etc. & yet today I felt like concluding “competitions are great motivators but only if you WIN!”