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Growing Concerns (12/14/2005)
By Dr. Martha Erickson

A parenting column with Dr. Martha Erickson

of the University of Minnesota

Question: My 6-year-old daughter seems to be obsessed with winning or being first. At school she will come inside early from recess because she is "cold" but I was recently told it was so she could be first for gym, or French or art or whatever. In the car she tries to get buckled before her brother, at home she tries to get down the stairs first or out the door first. She even tries to block her brother's path. If she doesn't win (or even THINKS she didn't win) she melts down into a puddle of tears. Her brother, who is 3, would also like to win sometimes and they are becoming quite competitive. She even sets the dinner table so she can sit next to me (mom) and her brother cannot--which I suspect is also a manner of winning for her. This habit is not only annoying (she seems to get teased by her classmates when she is constantly first in line) but it doesn't seem to be healthy. Should I be worried? What can I do?

Answer: It sounds like it's time for a heart-to-heart talk with your daughter. I suggest you set aside a quiet time to tell her you notice how important it is to her to always be first or to be the winner, but now that she's getting older she needs to think about other people's feelings. Her brother and friends need a chance to be first some times too. Let her know you are going to make a special effort to help her learn to take turns and be more sensitive to other people's feelings. At 6 years, she's at a good age to learn these important social lessons.

At home, you might begin by setting up a schedule so that she and her brother alternate days for choosing such things as where they want to sit at the dinner table and who gets in the car first. The more you can head off your daughter's pushy behavior, the better.

Then be sure to notice and acknowledge both of your children when they accept "second place" gracefully. In particular, pay special attention to those times when your daughter spontaneously gives her brother or others a chance to be first. Remind her often that you are proud of the way she's learning to respect other people's feelings.

If your daughter slips into her old behavior and blocks her brother's path or races down the stairway ahead of him, try turning your attention to your son. Give him a smile and a pat on the head and tell him you're glad he's not always trying to be first. This will help your daughter see that there are greater rewards in being gracious than in being pushy.

Since you know that your daughter's behavior is carrying over to school, I assume you and her teacher have talked about this. It's important that you and the teacher work together to try to teach the same lessons and values. Let the teacher know the ways you're working with your daughter to change these annoying behaviors and ask the teacher to join with you. For example, she could be more systematic about choosing children to be first in various school activities. And she could look for occasions to praise your daughter for making way for other children to have their fair share of opportunities and attention. 


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