Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

18 Adar 5764 - March 11, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Home and Family

They're All Winners
by A. Ross, M.Ed.

When team captains choose a team, they each pick a player in turn, till they get to the few nerds who are invariably chosen last. These `nerds' frequently shine academically, and are self confident enough in their other abilities not to feel too badly about their lack of prowess in physical abilities. Unfortunately, there will always be a few who do not excel in any domain. What happens to their self- esteem?

This article is not discussing football games, or other sports in the non-Jewish world which evoke the worst middos in the players (and in the spectators). In our schools, team games in sports lessons are useful in enhancing the improvement of physical skills among the children.

Teachers use the opportunity to develop a team spirit among their pupils and encourage them to pass the ball even to the `butterfingers.' At one sports day, where parents were present too, one girl with a leg in a brace was in a relay race. When it came her turn to run, the other team stopped spontaneously to watch their disabled classmate, and the proud girl got a standing ovation when she reached the other side. It was not only the parents of the girl who wiped away a surreptitious tear, and her inclusion in the team showed how successfully those girls had worked on their middos. The stress was not actually on which team finished first.

Apart from team games, there are board games and competitions. Board games are an excellent way for children to learn about winners and losers. It is far better to teach them, "He was the winner, she came second, she came third and... was the fourth," rather than using the term `loser'.

Some children are bad losers. So bad, in fact, that they will do anything in order to win the game. For a mother to say, "It's only a game," does not really work. When an expensive crystal vase is smashed, we can tell ourselves that it is only a vase, but some people are quite upset about the loss. These games are played in earnest and mothers must watch out for the child who invariably wins.

What is he doing to achieve his victory? Stories and talks about the importance of honesty and of giving a chance to younger children will probably help him to come to terms with the occasional defeat and to use this ambition for better objectives.

For those children who constantly lose and who withdraw from any competetive game, Mother should play with them regularly. Yes, bedtime is chaotic, with so many children needing quality time. Nevertheless, it is worth making this a priority. Practice makes perfect and if the child, whatever age, sees that he is a frequent winner, he will improve even more rapidly. It is not too difficult for a mother to lose unobtrusively, but if the child feels she is losing on purpose, it will defeat its purpose.

Incidentally, there are many mothers who play with their children of all ages regularly at bedtime, instead of reading the nightly story. Some use the opportunity to praise a child who gave way to another, who did not insist on his rights. They praise the loser for not being a "sore loser' and in general, teach the family how to behave during a game.

If one of the children habitually misbehaves in some way, a mild reprimand is in order in public; the rest should be done when the others are not around. Children should know that games are not a competition between two enemies, but an enjoyable occupation between two or more siblings or friends. They must learn not to gloat over their victories and to commiserate with the one who did not win this time.

In every community, there are now competitions run by various organizations on who can learn the most mishnayos or pages of gemora etc. by heart. If the competition is run in such a way that everyone who succeeds in learning a certain amount is a winner, there are more winners and no losers. When the stress is on the `most,' that is when the trouble begins. Furthermore, there is the phenomenon of the little boys who are lauded to the skies for having learned a certain amount and then they feel they know it all. It happens repeatedly that these children slacken off after this one great performance and the competition has done them more harm than good.

There is a fairly widespread system, especially in Israel, where they draw lots for winners. When a whole group of little boys are encouraged to attend some learning program, they are told that there will be a drawing for prizes. Each little boy imagines that he will carry home some fantastic prize and in reality, only a select few are chosen. Many people object to this form of encouragement. It arouses the envy of not a few who do not yet understand the idea of a lottery and feel they have been cheated.

Finally, there is competition between parents and children which frequently turns into a battle and not a game. When a mother regards the nightly refusal of her toddler to go to bed as a battle, which she loses, it is a great strain on her nerves. If it is a game, she will not feel defeated. She must know that she is the adult, and the children will take her cue from her.

When there are arguments with teenagers (and there are some years when every simple sentence seems to turn into an argument!), parents must remember that these kids want to win. They want to have the last word, but they do not mean it as a personal insult to the parent. If they have seen a parent rubbing his hands with glee after having vanquished a neighbor in an argument, they will want to emulate this behavior. However, if they see a parent who is in unchanging control of his words and who doesn't take this immature behavior as an affront to his dignity, these teenagers will learn the right values and tools to be victors in their turn. They will learn to take defeat as a fact of life and to stay calm about it.

Everybody likes to succeed. Success is an acknowledgement to himself and to any onlookers that he is worthy of respect or even admiration. This acknowledgement is the best method to gain self confidence. There is a vast difference between success and victory. Where there is a winner, there is always a loser, whereas achievement does not have to be at the expense of anyone else.

Everyone can succeed, some more and some less, and in their triumph, they are winners.


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