Is improvement self-directed?
Live every day better than the previous day.
Whenever we(I and DD1) play a game, and one comes first, I emphasise that the other need not be out of the game or there is nothing like a winner/loser. I keep saying, every one is a winner. If not in this, in some other play. One is good at a thing, while the other good at another. There is nothing wrong in trying your hand to better your own previous record.
This morning, DD1 was walking while balancing a toy placed on her head. I suggested she could walk some distance until it falls off.
DD1 questioned: So, what if it falls down?
She was in an opinion that, once it falls off, she is out of the game. She was introduced to the terms winner/first/out of game during her recent play at her friend's place. May be, this is the usual way children are taught to play - labelling each other, first, second, third, winner, loser, out, etc. I try to add a twist to the game when I am around. Guess, the children learn these terms from their parents/teachers/siblings/friends at home, school, birthday parties, competitions, where winners are given prizes and losers are left to feel sad.
So, for her question, I answered: When it falls down, you again continue the game and see if you can walk farther than you did the last time.
Yes, opposite of winning is not losing. It is giving up. And, when the child is declared out of the game, you are teaching the child to give up. The child learns that it is normal to compare herself with others. This is not a healthy competition in the early years.
I also hear people arguing that, ultimately in the life ahead, there will be competition where the child has to score a rank in order to get seat in prestigious college/university or grab the job. Yes, being competitive at 18 years cannot be compared to being competitive at 3 years of age.
In the tender age, children need to work within themselves. The child could reach a milestone that is better than her last trial. The child could be encouraged to make as many attempts as she wants to. The child could be offered unlimited opportunities to grow her abilities. The child could be taught that her voice is heard.
Even as an adult, Healthy competition is one where one keeps challenging the self and reaches higher milestones instead of comparing with peers. This is the only way to grow one self - both inwardly and outwardly.
What are we teaching our children by introducing them to the umpteen number of competitions since a very early age, as early as 2 years?
The child has not developed analytical, reasoning and logical skills yet at that tender age. S/He is still building the emotional self based on everyday experiences. And here, there are parents and teachers who keep pouncing the child throwing labels all around instead of encouraging the child.
Let us ourselves learn to grow better every day and encourage our children to grow better in their own way.