Are competition and comparison healthy for children?

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The topic of competition and whether or not we should encourage competitiveness in our Little Peeps is hotly debated and can often be a point of contention between parents who have differing views.

On one hand, competition can be seen as damaging to self-esteem and self-efficacy (whether we believe we can achieve a goal), and we all learn at different paces, so is it fair to compete?

On the other, it’s part of life so we really need to know how to participate and handle winning and losing, or coming first (or not) gracefully.

Humans are in fact neurologically wired for competition, it’s part of our survival instincts. Imagine if our ancestors didn’t stand up and fight that lion who wanted to eat them… or if we had no reason to push ourselves beyond getting out of bed in the morning, what would our life become?

Inside this episode of ‘Tude Talk TV I chat with Rachel Tomlinson who is Mum to a gorgeous little 4yo girl, a registered Psychologist and a child development specialist, to discuss competition from all sides.


[2:05] It’s not about whether competition is “good” or “bad”. It exists. There can only be one winner for a job, there are rankings in education, there are only a finite number of resources, so competition exists. We have to find a way to make it healthy for our Little Peeps.

[3:45] Her thoughts on whether we should compare ourselves to others or ourselves, and provides good points to support both sides. Children know if they are performing or not, generally, whether there is a formal scoring system in place or not.

[7:12] The types of competition have changed over the decades from predominantly academic and sporting achievers, to now the social competition fuelled by a digital era of social media and gaming.

[8:20] Social media and gaming platforms are built to be addictive and entice you back. For gaming, there are rewards, level ups etc that trigger dopamine and endorphins, chemicals in the brain that make you feel good and want to come back for more. On social media, the addiction is for recognition or connectedness scored based on likes and shares, which also hit the feel-good areas of the brain. External validation becomes important and addictive, which can be incredibly detrimental to our Little Peeps wellbeing.

[11:33] Technology reduces our kid’s ability to delay gratification, which has some long term outcomes. [14:46] When you delay gratification it allows you to wait for the bigger outcome. For example, learning to save to buy something you really want. Technology increases our want for instant gratification, diminishing our ability to delay it.

[12:57] Emotional intelligence is a big part of building resilience, which is useful online and offline.

[17:00] Sibling rivalry is instinctive and she shares a great visual description of creating equity even when there are differences (inequality) in abilities and developmental stages.

[21:00] The downsides to competition for example, if competition is seen as a marker of someone’s worth nor value can be detrimental to a person’s self-worth. The tall poppy syndrome and

[24:38] The healthy side of competition including self-comparison, what did I do well? Did I improve on previous performances? When the internal message is about growth as opposed to winning, is when competition is healthy which builds self-esteem, determination and confidence.

[27:27 How to handle different parental viewpoints on competition when each parent is at different ends of the opinion continuum when it comes to competition. Have a conversation with your partner in advance and agree on how you each want to teach them about competition.

You can listen to the full episode of ‘Tude Talk TV (40mins or play on fast speed).

NB: Apologies, the audio quality isn’t great due to reverberation.


[10:07] Consider the age of children as they begin using technology. Give them clear boundaries and have them use devices in an open place where you can support them. Build resilience against keyboard warriors so they can cope with negative experiences.

[12:42] Curated feeds with uplifting, positive posts that make your little person feel good.

[16:10] Ways to build delayed gratification with Little Peeps include baking or puzzles for slightly delayed gratification or gardening for a longer delay.

[19:48] Have conversations with your kids about why one sibling is being asked to do a particular chore and not the other and explain the differences. Work to the children’s natural strengths and preferences.

[26:23] Competition does exist, we can’t protect our kids from losing. How we support our children to deal with that and find other areas of worth and teach them to reframe their areas of strength.


Many Thanks to Rachel Tomlinson is a registered psychologist, author of two internationally published books and child development expert. She has experience working in education settings, play therapy, counselling and parenting support programs. You can find out more on her website or follow on Instagram.

Photo by Vitolda Klein on Unsplash


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  1. Thank you so much for having me on ‘Tude Talk TV. This topic is so important, and I’m glad we had a chance to do a deep dive. Our society is changing and considering our views and the way we support our children to navigate their world.

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