We've had several situations in the last few years when the boys were in competitive situations that weren't going well. In fact, they were going horribly. It was really hard to try to figure out whether the child should persevere and keep trying, or stop. While I want to teach my kids about commitment and perseverance, I want to help them understand that winning at all costs could be a losing proposition. What's lost may be greater than the gain.
Competition can be rewarding and confidence-building. It also can be hard and miserable. Usually it's somewhere in between.
Everyone loves a winner
Sure, winning is great fun, but isn't the greater goal in the process of the competition? Not everyone can be the winner every time, after all.
When one's child is on the "winning" end of a competition, it's easy to say, "Good job," and, "See what you can do when you stick with it?" and leave it there. Perhaps there should be some additional questions: "How do you feel about the competition?" or "Did you make your best effort and compete fairly?" And then, "Do you feel like the competition and the result was worth the effort?"
Similarly, when one's child is on the "losing" end of a competition, a parent might say, "That's too bad," or, "You did your best," or even "You'll just have to try harder next time." Perhaps there should be more questions, though: "How do you feel about the competition?" or "Did you make your best effort and compete fairly?" And then, "Do you feel like the competition and the result was worth the effort?"
Doing the right thing
The tenor of a competition can change in a flash, and for a variety of reasons. Some changes may be innocent or even positive, but some are not. Occasionally those changes have been just plain wrenching to my kids. When a competition begins to or may cause physical or emotional trauma, regardless of the direction the competition is taking (toward "winning" or "losing"), it's time to stop. Quitting in these situations is not losing, it's just stopping, and it's the right thing to do. It may be quitting in a technical sense, but so be it.
Maybe that's what it really comes down to: doing what is right. Doing what is right for ones self and ones situation is always a winning choice.
Our situations have gone in every direction. We've stopped some and continued on in others. We've won and we've lost. My boys walk away from each competition knowing they did what was right.