Parenting Guide: Competition vs Cooperation

By Greg Baer M.D.

December 11, 2023


A mother wrote and said,

“My two boys argue quite a lot about being FIRST or MOST.

Like, I’ll be making pancakes in the morning, and they’ll say stuff like, “I want the first pancake.” 

And then the other one says, “Yeah, but he was first last time.” 

Or we’ll be leaving the house, and they race to the car like it was the Olympics, screaming, “I get the front seat.”

No matter what I say, they keep doing it, and it’s not fun. What can I do? 

Competition is a Type of Selfish Relationship

There is only one issue here: selfishness. Selfishness is the enemy of love, which is what you really want to teach. This particular selfishness is called competition.

Say something like this to the boys: “When you’re competing to be first or most, who are you thinking about? YOURSELF. It’s selfish, and you can’t be happy if you live that way. So, we’re not going to do the “I'm first" game ever again. It's over. If you ask to be first, or if I even see you jostling to be first, you get nothing. Not kidding. No pancakes, no sitting in the front seat.”

Why Competition is a Family is Bad

Competition is the devil in a family. It teaches children many things, none good:

  • that winning is more important than having fun or being kind.
  • to find pleasure in beating other people down. Power.
  • to be selfish.
  • not to care about the happiness of others.

Being first is like musical chairs. Somebody ALWAYS loses in that game.

And Mom, when your boys grow up to be men, how will their lives be when they can’t stand to be second? They make lousy co-workers. Their marriages are always unhappy. They can’t be loving parents.

Competition vs Cooperation

So, Mom, how DO you handle who is first? Tell the boys that whoever shows up first, they’re first. Let it just happen naturally. How could the first pancake be better than the second? 

Now, inevitably one boy will be bigger or faster, and that boy will tend to be first or get most. Just watch, and if one kid is first unreasonably often, just calmly say to that kid, “Hey, it’s your brother’s turn.” Keep it fairly even, and YOU are the judge, instead of them competing and being selfish.

How can you tell if you’re getting it right? There will be NO tension in your house. Nobody will be jostling or pushing to be first.

Happiness Begins When Selfishness Ends

One mother wrote to me and said, “Now that the kids aren’t trying to win at everything, the house is filled with peace. I love this.”

To all parents, Winning doesn’t make us happy. Love does.

Want to learn more?

Eliminate confusion and conflict with your children.

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About the author 

Greg Baer, M.D.

I am the founder of The Real Love® Company, Inc, a non-profit organization. Following the sale of my successful ophthalmology practice I have dedicated the past 25 years to teaching people a remarkable process that replaces all of life's "crazy" with peace, confidence and meaning in various aspects of their personal lives, including parenting, marriages, the workplace and more.

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