Free Newsletters About Parenting!

Enter your Email

How To Deal With Overly Competitive Children

A sanity kit for the teachers of Competitors 

Motto: "Fight to the death!"  

  • are competitive to the nth degree,
  • disregard consequences,
  • are defiant in the extreme, 
  • must win at any cost, 
  • love to boast, 
  • can be world-beaters, but can also be lonely "sponges" for attention who rely on that, and 
  • don't often consider the feelings of others. 
One great example is the former cycling champion, Lance Armstrong. 
How To Deal With Overly Competitive Children

Helping Competitors to change 

Congratulations! You have a highly motivated, firing-on-all-cylinders, exceptional, competitive young person in your class who can easily be engaged by setting him challenges. Unfortunately, he also can't stand to lose.
I recently visited a school that had a time-out room. There was a boy sitting quietly in there so I walked in and, after introducing myself, asked him why he was in time-out. He gave me a steely, don't-mess-with-me kind of look and then replied cheerily, "I'm doing it on credit." This kid was just waiting for the day when a teacher would instruct him to go to time-out, so he could reply, "Already done it!" He was going to win at any cost.

The bluster and power of Lances can mislead you into thinking they are strong. They are driven and sometimes very stressed people. Their fragility, if they do not win, can be quite surprising.

Most bright kids do best with consistency and routines, and Competitors are no exception. Don't back yourself into a corner with these kids. Be able to clearly state the routine: "You know we complete half an hour of reading before we do ..." 

As Competitors are naturally motivated to achieve, find something meaningful for them to do. This can be used as an inducement to complete other activities, e.g., "If you can finish that essay to a standard I'm happy with, you can do [whatever the activity is] for ten minutes." Notice that the offer was not framed in terms of time. If you say to little Lance, "Finish that in ten minutes and then ... ," they'll give you any old rubbish. Emphasize quality, not time or quantity. If you ask them to write 50 words on something, they will give you precisely 50 words - no more, no less.
If you have a few Competitors in your class, try to create situations or learning environments where they can experience failure without feeling ashamed. Absurd quizzes, estimation and "guesstimation" games, and self-scoring charting of progress are some ways of achieving this.

A sanity kit for the teachers of Passive Resisters 

Motto: "Problem? What problem?" 

Passive Resisters:
  • are secretive and private about their thoughts and feelings, 
  • can seem to be out of touch with their surroundings, 
  • often lose possessions,
  • appear not to listen or take in information,
  • can be hard to get going, 
  • often isolate themselves, and 
  • can spend endless hours in the Library reading, and generally avoiding human interaction. 
One great example is the former Indian leader, Mahatma Gandhi, who achieved national independence through noncompliance.

Helping Passive Resisters to change 

Congratulations! You have a sensitive, clever, astute young person in your class who will rarely, if ever, show you much direct confrontation or defiance. The downside is that you might tear your hair out trying to work out what this child is thinking about or trying to get her to focus on a task.
Passive Resister kids are vague and disorganized. The "Lost and Found" section of your school is a diagnostic bin for these children.

Passive Resisters will happily sit on the sidelines of your class for years. It is easy to mistake their withdrawal for a lack of interest and motivation. Make a point of noticing them. Personalize your relationship with them. While it's always a good idea to devote five minutes each day to catching up individually with a student one-on-one, this is especially true with Passive Resisters.

Passive Resisters are easily overlooked, either because they are so quiet or because they take so long to assemble an answer to any question. When they stumble over an answer, allow them more time, but keep coming back to them. Don't let them get away with not communicating.

An easy trap for teachers working with Passive Resisters is to do everything for them. Help is not always helpful; in fact it can disempower them. Delegating tasks or areas of responsibility to these kids is a useful way of involving them.

Passive Resisters want to "grow down" rather than grow up. Look for opportunities for these kids to be involved in cross-age tutoring and reading programs with younger students - this often helps them to flourish.

Increase the amount of group work in classes with Passive Resisters. Rotate leadership roles within the groups, and use this to build their confidence in their ability to do and to complete tasks. One teacher who had a lot of this type of bright kid in her class went to the extent of writing on the board key phrases to assist social interaction, such as, "What is the first thing we need to do?" and "What do we need to do next?" and so on.

Having a clear, positive communication system with Passive Resisters' parents is essential. Try to use email or text messaging as a regular strategy for parent communication, where parents have access to these. To find out more, you can check out How To Deal With Overly Competitive Children.