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Gifted Kids and Competition
Q: I read with interest your letter about finding a counselor who knows giftedness. It describes my son perfectly. He has tremendous compassion, and frequently asks questions about life and death. He is also very competitive and agonizes a lot if anybody gets better scores or more points than him. I want to teach him that it's okay not to win, without making him lose interest or without thinking it's no use competing. This has been difficult for me to deal with.
A: Many gifted kids have a bit of difficulty learning that they can't be "the best" at a skill all the time. Some are poor losers, and this can lead to social problems in getting along with others. I have done research into this area and I remain a firm believer in competition for gifted kids. Let me explain:
Competition -- whether in sports, academics, or the arts -- can show any person how to deal with both success and defeat. This is a valuable life skill, and the sooner it's learned, the better. I have seen cases where gifted kids go off to college and basically fall apart academically when they see that there are many high achievers like themselves.
Competitive activities do not have to be so expensive, stressful, or time-consuming that they disrupt all family life. Competition can take place at a local softball field, or at a local Scrabble game club. School competitions are also good: essay contests, math games, etc.
As parents, we can let our kids know that all they have to do is make a good effort and that's what counts the most. Talk with them about what they got out of the competition, whether they win or lose. Let them know that quitting in midstream or having temper outbursts in public are not acceptable behaviors in your family. For a gifted child, competition in areas of their interests can also help them to meet other kids who just might become friends. This can be a win-win situation for gifted kids! Good luck.
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Noreen Joslyn is a licensed independent social worker in the state of Ohio and is a member of the Academy of Certified Social Workers. She has a master's degree in Social Work, specializing in family and children, from the University of Pittsburgh. She is a psychiatric social worker in private practice with Ken DeLuca, Ph.D. & Associates, where she counsels parents and children.