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…
Elsie’s Rules for Competitive Carving:
- Mom has to do the gooey insides bit because it’s disgusting;
- Don’t touch my pumpkin (apart from the gooey insides);
- Don’t even look at my pumpkin until it’s finished;
- Stay on your side of the table with your own pumpkin;
- Until I need help popping the eyes out because they’re stuck;
- 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.
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…
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…
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!