dealing with competitiveness

dealing with competitiveness

Disclaimer: Before you say “who do you think you are?” I’d like to introduce myself! I am not a child psychologist, a therapist, a counselor or even a parent. I am not an expert or a specialist of any kind. I’m just a kid who grew up and still remembers it. I am writing from my own experience. Please don’t take any of my advice as hard-and-fast rules, but rather “rules of thumb” or suggestions based on my personal insight as a “pineapple sibling.” :)

Competitiveness is not, by any means, confined to adoptive families! However, I do find that it “strikes hard” in these cases because of the way the family came together. An adoptive family can sometimes feel like an unplanned home in which random rooms have been added on here and there and winding hallways seem to lead to nowhere at all. I’ve lived in homes like this and know they can be well-loved and useful, but when I child starts to feel like an unnecessary add-on, the competition begins.

Where is my place in the family? What is my role? These are questions they ask in their sub-conscious. This goes for adopted kiddos and “pineapple siblings.” Things have changed for everyone. Maybe “the baby” isn’t the baby anymore. Maybe the middle child doesn’t feel special or the older child feels like their own childhood has been cut short. Someone isn’t getting enough attention and suddenly their motto becomes “survival of the loudest.”

Some kids perform for attention, other kids resort to seeking negative attention. However they are asking for it, they all are asking for the same basic things: to feel loved, valuable and special (three separate characteristics of an accepted member of a family.) Here are a few tips I’ve gathered from my own experience as a P.S. and now from watching my younger siblings go through the same transitions:

1. Fair vs. Same

Our first reaction might be to think that in order to keep two kids from competing for something, they must each have their own equal share of it. There are several problems with this plan. One is that children want and need different things. Once child may need a bigger glass of milk in the morning because she’s going through a growth spurt and is genuinely hungry. The other child may genuinely not need more milk. One child may need more books on his reading level. The other child may do just fine with the hand-me-down books at this point. The other problem with the “equal shares” philosophy is that doesn’t teach them about reality, which is that life isn’t fair. The child who is given absolutely everything her sister has, nothing more and nothing less, will not understand when she is beat out for a job or not picked for a team. On top of all this, who can afford to buy five of everything? This is one reason why so many couples decide to only have one child. They cannot bear for things to be “unfair” for a sibling.

What we can remember is that “same” and “fair” are two very different things. In a healthy home, children should all be treated equally unfairly! That is to say, they should understand that sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. Sometimes their sibling will get something they do not, and that’s okay. It’s okay because sometimes they will get something their sibling will not. Sometimes it’s not your birthday. 

2. A Place in the Sun

No matter if you’re quiet or outgoing, everyone wants positive attention, affection and the feeling of worth. Kids need to have their own place in the sun, their own moment to shine. This does not mean that impromptu performances are okay. I am constantly telling my youngest sisters that I didn’t ask for a show. They can wait and demonstrate a handstand when I’m done talking to the other sister. Stealing the show is just plain bad manners and disruptive. But on the other hand, I applaud the individual gifts of my little siblings. I watch Jubilee play the piano and tell her how amazing it sounded and I “ooh and ah” over Meggie’s drawings. If you can’t find anything in particular that stands out as impressive (i.e. music or art,) then compliment them on how well they cleaned their room, how funny their impersonations are, their sense of style, their vocabulary, their willingness to help, their handwriting, their hugging skills…there’s always something!

3. Call it what it is

Being sensitive and “choosing battles” is essential when dealing with…anyone, but honesty is equally important. Sometimes calling it what it is, and calling someone out, is the only way to uproot this nasty habit. Remember, it takes two to have a competition. Talk to your kids about what they are doing. There’s a good chance they don’t realize why they are acting the way they are. They may think, “I just suddenly really wanted to be the first one to hug Dad when he got home,” and not realize that desire was born out of rivalry. Try saying things like, “Woah, this isn’t a contest! You will all get a hug!” or “Eating is not a race. Everyone needs to slow down a bit.” These phrases don’t single one child out (remember, it takes two) but gives everyone the hint that this behavior is unwarranted.

4. No Joking Matter

Keep in mind that things that seem trivial to you or I can be very big to a little kid. It is easy for a child to feel left out or neglected, even when that’s not your intention at all. Joking about “favorites” or comparing kids to each other is unhelpful and can cause anguish in kids who are insecure about their role in the family. Affirm each child individually and make sure you give them your full attention every once in a while. That means eye contact, closed mouth, still hands, concentrated mind!

5. Check Your Heart 

Last, but definitely not least: make sure your heart is in the right place. It’s easy to give in to the competition and let someone win it. The prize, of course, is your favor. Is bad behavior causing you to side more often with one child? Is the constant performing actually stealing your attention? Does one child’s needs trump the needs of your other children more often than not? Make sure your kids are all your “pride and joy”…and that they know it! The confidence and security that comes from knowing you are truly treasured ultimately makes competition unappealing and irrelevant.

“Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility, count others more significant than yourself.” Philippians 2:3

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