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When Your Child Comes In Second Place

In that competitive, fast-paced, land of over-parenting that we all now inhabit, encouraging your child to come in first place is a no-brainer. But...

In that competitive, fast-paced, land of over-parenting that we all now inhabit, encouraging your child to come in first place is a no-brainer. But what about when your kid comes in second? How do children – and parents – deal with that?

I had reason to confront this question myself recently when my son told me that he was a finalist in an annual reading competition at his school. Every autumn, three children are selected from each year group to stand up before a roomful of parents and teachers and read a passage from their favorite books. My son won the competition last year with a selection from J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Return of the King,” so he was already the defending champion. But what if he didn’t win this time?

It doesn’t help that my son goes to a school where — because they’re all boys and because they’re 9 — the kids rank each other on everything they do: who’s the best soccer player; who can recite his times tables fastest; who can play two instruments and at what level. One of his friends even phoned me up one day to announce that my son was his “third best friend, so could he please stay for dinner?” (Gosh! I wondered. What do the first and second best friends get? Dessert? A movie?)

My son chose a particularly challenging passage to read. It was a scene from Mark Twain’s “Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” one that required him to produce both a credible American Southern accent as well as some 19th-century slang. (We live in London, so neither of these things is exactly familiar territory.)

As the date approached, we rehearsed the passage several times a week. As a veteran of many high-school theatrical productions (and the daughter of an actress), I coached him on pacing, intonation and accent. We re-read the passage over and over, homing in on the really tough bits of dialogue until he got them right. The night before the finals, I felt that he finally nailed it.

Read the rest of this post at the New York Times Motherlode blog

Image: What’s this I hear about over-parenting? by Kevin L. Moore via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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  1. Daryl Boylan November 18, 2010 at 9:16 pm #

    Aw shucks, who knew (certainly not your mother) that you were such a wreck in school? You certainly did an ace job of not letting it show. As for your son, he would appear to take after his father in more ways than one. (Tho’ who knows? Maybe he’s an even better actor than you!

  2. Kristen @ Motherese November 18, 2010 at 9:23 pm #

    It seems like we’re thinking about some of the same things today, Delia. Now I’d just like to know if you have a formula to share for how a high-achieving, high-anxiety parent can produce a high-achieving, seemingly easy-going child. Inquiring minds want to know.

  3. delialloyd November 18, 2010 at 9:25 pm #

    marry someone mellower than yourself!! (actually he isn’t easy-going per se but certainly more so than I!)

  4. jelillie November 19, 2010 at 3:49 pm #

    There are worse things than encouraging (and expecting) your kids to excel. Try this on for size. I know a man who encourages his kids with lines like this, “You’ll never be the best. Just don’t embarass the family.”

  5. delialloyd November 19, 2010 at 8:48 pm #

    ha! lol, @jelillie….love that. thanks for it.

  6. Hilary November 19, 2010 at 10:00 pm #

    Hi Delia .. I can imagine it .. wonderful that ‘son’ is so laid back and happy go lucky – he’ll have learned much being taught by Mum and won’t forget these lessons .. so you’ve achieved and he’s happy ..

    Have a good family weekend .. Hilary

  7. Patricia November 23, 2010 at 7:07 am #

    Every time I would get a chance to do some public speaking or debate or do a reading, my mum would say as I left home “Don’t embarrass the family.” and when I was preaching at a visiting church she said,”Remember there is someone in the congregation who will take what you say personally – try not to make them feel badly.” My Father was always out saving the other children. I learned early to just please myself. I think my children were lucky to have me have that wisdom under my belt. I was just proud of them for trying and doing their best. Though I was a bit disappointed that my youngest did not take the tennis scholarship for college/ more for money reasons and that they had free tutoring for the team members :)
    Fun experience. thank you for sharing this.

  8. delialloyd November 23, 2010 at 11:01 am #

    Thanks Patricia. That’s a great story and I’m saddened by the “don’t embarrass us” comment but I think it’s all too true. (Am reading Freedom right now and that is very much the theme of the protagonist’s childhood). Thanks for sharing. There is no greater lessons for kids and adults alike than to learn how to please yourself.

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