My five year old son, Asher, is competitive. I figured he was like any other super competitive kid, but now after an ongoing, incessant competitive nature, I’ve come to see that it’s really on a different level. He reminds me of a Mini McEnroe.

We’ve all seen the tennis great… at his worst.

McEnroe protesting a call at Wimbledon in 1980. (Photo: Steve Powell/Getty Images)

McEnroe protesting a call at Wimbledon in 1980.
(Photo: Steve Powell/Getty Images)

After an incident in our backyard, I have to admit that I have to figure out how to deal with Asher’s passion and competitiveness without squashing what I have always seen, and truly believe, is a positive trait which will serve him well in life.

Once, when Asher was just 4, we had a relay race during a play date: moms vs. kids. The moms won… and Asher made it known he was not happy. All the other kids moved on, but Asher couldn’t let it go and told one of the moms, respectfully at least, that the moms had cheated. He wanted “a do over,” the moms conceded.

Back to my Mini McEnroe. Let me set the scene. It was a tennis match in our backyard. Jackson and Asher playing “doubles” against me. I know nothing about tennis except that you hit the ball back and forth to each other. I never played it or watched it as a kid. Sidebar- I’m not one of those moms who lets their kids win all the time, I just don’t think it’s the way to go. I believe in teaching sportsmanship and playing for fun. Winning is a bonus! No one can win all of the time. So I figured since tennis wasn’t my thing I would play like it was a fair match up, kinda. Jackson kept me on my toes. But literally, every time I would get a point, Asher would have a fit. He would yell and scream and tell me, “You just want to win, mommy and it’s not fair.” But as soon as they scored a point, Asher would be jumping for joy exclaiming, “You’re going down!” Reminder, the kid is five. The match: the first to 20 wins.

What happened next was shocking. I was close to winning the match, just one point away from victory. There were actually three “takeovers” as both boys decided there was some sort of issue with my points. Finally, I made it to 20. Then the explosion… screaming at the top of his lungs, “It’s not fair!” “You cheated!” Asher’s new tennis racket flung to the ground… it’s not over yet… And then the ball, thrown at his top strength, right at me! YIKES! And there was no calming him down. He just couldn’t take the loss. This is the most extreme reaction he has ever had, but in everything he does, he sees competition and has a must win attitude… at all costs.

Once we were able to finally console him, Jackson offering a re-match, he said he felt okay. But the effort that goes into his angst is tough to watch. I don’t want him to tense up and feel badly. I want him to be happy and to enjoy the process. I gathered some advice from other parents and experts and here’s what I found out. If you have a child who is HYPER-competitive I hope this might help. (This advice is for younger kids.)

Winning Isn’t Everything: Some hyper-competitive kids need reminders that there’s more to games than scoring goals. Parents and their kids can make up a list of other things that are important in their sport of choice – assists, passes, or cheering for your team-mates, for example. When kids compete to engage in positive team behaviors, they’re on the way to becoming more cooperative!

Don’t Worry About Why Your Kid Is So Competitive: You don’t really need to know what makes your child so competitive—you might have a guess, but no analysis of the root of the problem is necessary.

Set Up Contests That Let Your Child Win: The older and more capable a child is, the more of a contest you have to set up with them, but don’t try to be perfectly skilled at a sport. Set up contests that let you show affection. “I’ve got 100 kisses for you” is a good one, where you chase him and catch him and try to land a kiss. It’s fun, loving and no pressure!

Let the games begin!