I have concerns around a seemingly highly competitive nature and the need to be the best or winner in my 5 year old. Is this typical? Thanks for your thoughts.



Most children begin to be aware of competing with others somewhere around 5 to 6 years of age. Not only is your 5 year old exploring her self awareness in relation to others, she is also operating from beliefs she’s developed about who she is and how to get attention and power. Some of this she’s learned from the adults around her and some from experiencing other children and what has worked for her to get her needs met. As always, it falls to adults to look at our part in this. Have we modeled competitive behavior? Is there competition among other family members for attention? Any family members competing for her attention? She’s had 5 years to watch and learn from the adults. It doesn’t take much for a bright 5 year old to figure out what works to get noticed and attention.

The trick is to help her explore her approach and to temper it with some training. At a neutral time initiate a chat about competition. Discuss what it is, how it looks and that sometimes we win, sometimes we lose. Share a time you were competitive around her and how it felt for you. Talk about what you are doing to deal with your own competitiveness. Maybe she’ll join in that first chat. If not keep bringing up the matter over time in a friendly caring way. Eventually the conversation will come around to her. Your goal here is to share in the ways of friendship. If you find yourself pushing your agenda or beginning to lecture, catch yourself and back off. Stop on a high note, leaving her rewarded by the nurturing attention and wanting more contact with you. When you’re together identify when you are competing, or the inherent competition in the experience. Show her the difference between healthy normal competition and the mistaken version designed to capture attention and worth. Create real competition making certain that she wins some and loses some. Create a safe place for her to express her feelings while you patiently reinforce your love and affection for her as something not related to competition of any kind. The message she needs to hear is that she is worthy of love and attention.

Try the unexpected and give her a hug when you see her competing for attention or power. Redirect her behavior to one that contributes to the activity, what can she be in charge of? Schedule special time with just her, and stick to your time each week. 1 hour is what you’re after here. Take turns deciding on what you’ll do. Ask her at the moment what she needs right now. It’s a great opportunity for each family member to ask for what she or he needs. Acknowledge and compliment her efforts to learn how to be in a group, in a game, in the world. Take mistakes as opportunities to explore other ways of handling things. Your five year old is doing her job by learning to find her way in the world. Help her all you can with understanding and humor.