With Halloween on the horizon, yesterday afternoon I managed to find myself in the middle of some competitive carving. This is the fourth year my daughter and I have carved pumpkins together. Normally she would help design and draw, but she hasn’t really had the ability or strength to carve. Last year she gave it a good go but it was pretty terrifying and she tired of it quickly – phew. But this year, at the grand old age of 6½, she has totally upped her game. There is a determination that wasn’t there before which seems to have given birth to a competitive streak. Suddenly we had a game of Pumpkin Wars on our hands…

kid-competitive-pumpkin-carving
The look of a determined winner…
Elsie’s Rules for Competitive Carving:
  1. Mom has to do the gooey insides bit because it’s disgusting;
  2. Don’t touch my pumpkin (apart from the gooey insides);
  3. Don’t even look at my pumpkin until it’s finished;
  4. Stay on your side of the table with your own pumpkin;
  5. Until I need help popping the eyes out because they’re stuck;
  6. Then return to your side of the table until I’m finished.

We have competed a number of times recently. Only the previous day we had friends over to make pizzas. “We’re having a pizza making competition!” She said excitedly. That’s not what I said but that’s what she heard. A few days before we had sat down to try out her ‘How to draw Manga’ book from the library. “We’re having a Manga drawing competition.” She said. Note how she tells me what’s already happening rather than making a suggestion. So where did this sudden competitive streak come from?

What the Experts Say

Because I occasionally like to back my waffle with a bit of science, I thought I’d do some research and find out whether this sudden surge of enthusiasm for winning was normal.

“The chronic competitiveness of 5- and 6-year-olds is often hard for parents to handle. We tend to be embarrassed by the boasting common at this age and concerned that our children might be perceived as arrogant or insensitive.”

Thankyou Karen Levine from Parents Magazine, I feel so much better knowing my daughter’s pumpkin carving trash talk is normal. “My pumpkin is gonna be so much spookier than yours,” could really hurt someone’s feelings.

The New York Times offers expert views for and against competitive behaviours in children, including quotes from experts such as:

 “The evidence overwhelmingly suggests that competition is destructive, particularly, but not exclusively, for children… It’s a toxic way to raise children.” (Alfie Kohn)

Now Alfie, I wish I’d know that before embarking on two days of competitive pizza making and pumpkin carving. We’ve had such an intoxicating weekend I almost feel hungover. Mr Kohn is quite convinced that competitiveness can ‘promote anxiety, damage self-esteem and performance, and lead to disengagement.’ We’re screwed… totally screwed. Another week of this and she’s going to be a quivering mess.

However, luckily for me, not everyone is quite so pessimistic. David Johnson, a professor at the University of Minnesota believes than when competitive behaviour is combined with co-operation, it creates a healthy environment for support and success. So teaming up and encouraging each other to do better is good. And it’s OK to have a winner as long as the loser is also encouraged…

“The creativity, the innovation, the quality of product all goes up as you nurture talents and performance of others,” (Prof. David Johnson, University of Minnesota.)

Oh good, I do feel better. I was getting plenty of encouragement from my opponent while carving. “I bet your pumpkin is looking super spooky Mommy.” If I’m honest the tone was a little cocky and patronizing but I’ll totally take it.

The Result

At the end of the competitive pumpkin carving, of course there had to be a winner. Daddy was out at the shops and so it was decided that he was to be the judge on his return. However after leaving the room for a few moments I returned to find this…

pumpkins-with-crowns

Ignore the washing up in the background and the cat trying to squeeze it’s head into the pumpkin to get the flickering electric candle… I haven’t got time to be full glamour all the time you know. What we’re looking at here is the crowns. It seems Elsie couldn’t wait for Judge Daddy to get back from the shops so had crowned herself winner of the pumpkin carving competition. She made it very clear that she was given the gold crown and I had been awarded the silver crown for coming second. “Well done Mommy.” Then she pointed out the certificates she had placed beside each pumpkin…

pumpkin-carving-certificates

So… I got a ‘nice try’… does that count as ‘nurturing talents and performance of others?’. She was certainly very pleased to be crowned first place and who could argue with her… she had just carved her very own pumpkin at age six!

We may need to curb the competitive streak at some point, but for now I think I’ll let her revel in the toxicity of her win, sorry Alfie. Happy Halloween!

pumpkins-in-darkness

27 COMMENTS

  1. Fabulous pumpkins, love the certificates too. My favourite picture has to be of the cat trying to stick it’s head in the pumpkin, cheeky thing. Can’t wait for the next competition post, Christmas Tree decorating competition perhaps? 😉 #MMBC x

  2. Hahahaha…you got the “nice try”…that’s so funny. And look at her face when she’s carving – real concentration. I think kids are just naturally competitive at that age and the need to win is fierce. For the sake of peace, I rather lose sometimes. Note that I said sometimes. Thanks for sharing with #bigpinklink

  3. Oh I love this so much, your daughter sounds amazing (fab certificates-nice touch) My kids we through this stage all through primary school but once they hit high school it all seemed to end.. I was quite disappointed really as I am so competitive myself!! Whoops! #madaboutblog

  4. I really enjoyed reading this. Good job with the research! Alfie form the NYT is full of it. Competition is a normal part of life – of course it should be cooperative-ish though. I find that my son is very motivated by it. Like when you’re trying to get him to go somewhere, who can get to the door first? #familyfun

  5. Well done to her. It turned out great. Wow I spat my cuppa out when I read ‘Shit Alfie’ haha. I do believe a little healthy family fun isn’t going to exactly damage her is it – not like you’re putting the weight of the world on her shoulders. If anything I think you were more worried than her, she schooled you haha! #madaboutblog

  6. ‘Nice try’ is hilarious! She knows how to smash your dreams! I don’t believe a bit of competition hurt anyone – we’ve always been competitive in my family. In fact, my husband and I competed over our pumpkin carving this year – it was his first time, so I went easy on him though! Thanks so much for joining us again at #SharingtheBlogLove

  7. Hi Katherine, I don’t think you have too much to worry about, whoever said competitiveness is bad is simply mad. The real world is a competitive place and being naturally competitive as a child can be educational. And it’s not as if everyone is competitive. My husband and daughter both are, and it’s not done either of them any harm (I don’t think). Learning to lose gracefully is the far more important than learning to win and you can’t do either if there isn’t any competition.

    Thank you for linking up to the #MMBC

    xx

    • Learning to lose is definitely the most difficult part! My daughter is such a bad loser although is getting better… slowly!

  8. Ha that’s funny I think I remember being competitive as a child, whoops. I don’t think abbot of completion is the end of the world and is part of growing up to an extent but as with every thing I guess – all in moderation. I do like your daughters ‘nice try’ comment though it made me chuckle. Thanks for sharing at #famikyfun xx

  9. Hehe brilliant! You really have to just take these “experts” advice with a pinch of salt sometimes. The pumpkins look fab too. We’ve never done it before but I think we might have a go next year will be able to get involved now #SharingTheBlogLove

  10. Hahaha….I enjoyed this post =) Love the competition spirit your little one is exuding. I believe in that everything in moderation thing so a little never hurts anyone. (Except the loser. Kidding..haha) #madaboutblog

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