Olympic Fun at Home: Cooperation Meets Competition

Filed under: Activities: Babies, Amazing Kids, Cabin Fever

A Facebook friend posted yesterday that his four-year-old son was speed skating non-stop in the living room. Apparently, this dad had his finger on a trend, because reports began pouring in from other parents. Pairs figure skating in the dining room. Biathlon upstairs. Hockey (with golf clubs -- yikes! -- on someone's wood floor). And don't forget the couch moguls.

At our house, Cabin Fever has experienced something similar since the opening of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games: the spontaneous eruption of kid-organized competition, indoors (like Vancouver, our winter has been plagued by not enough snow).

Our children are ages eight, seven, four, and 22 months: the eldest are now old enough to "get" the Olympics. And they get it better than plenty of grownups. They see past the commercials and the talk, the hype and the organizational glitches. They see the games. They see the competition. They see the athletes.

And they want to join in.

It's cliched to observe that the Olympics can inspire our children to achieve their dreams. And I'm not sure that's exactly what is going on here. I think it's something purer. Less about achievement, and more about real live fun, about jumping with joyous, unthinking immersion into a game. When I look through my children's eyes, I see that these games are just that: games. The competition is a process as much as a final score.

Do you remember pretending to ice skate in woolen socks across a wood floor?


Here's the lesson I've learned this week: Competition can bring out the best in us.

My general parenting philosophy is to encourage cooperation over competition, but in my children's responses to these Olympic games, I've observed the magical meeting of both cooperation and competition. Best of all, it's kid-inspired; it's occurring in the absence of parental nagging, reminding, or hovering. We're just joining in the games, too.

Here's one example:

Tonight is bath night; usually the least popular date on our family's calendar. But instead of issuing his usual complaints, our eldest turns it into an event. Who can take the fastest shower? (While still getting clean!) Daddy is appointed to be the judge. "You have to sniff our hair to make sure we did a good job!" With the kitchen timer running, the bathroom becomes the site of some of the most water-efficient showers in our family's history. Records in speed-shampooing are utterly annihilated. And extra points are kindly awarded to our youngest daughter (who loses track of time), for helping to wash her baby brother's hair.

It turns out that this is just the first of the evening's planned events. Next up: yoga in the living room! I explain that yoga (unlike, say, showering) is not generally considered a competitive sport. "We can get points by encouraging each other," says the eldest (who is not only a competitor, but also the chief rule-setter).

There follows an extremely fun, pajama-clad, all-family yoga event at which many compliments (and points) are given.

But it's getting late. Snack-time. The games are over for today. Medals are awarded, with the two eldest sharing gold, the younger daughter coming in with silver, and the toddler awarded the bronze. No one complains. Everyone has done his or her best, and everyone is glad for everyone else's effort.

Bedtime. (Who can fall asleep the fastest? Sadly, that contest is not spontaneously introduced by any child). Tomorrow's events are just a sleep away. But don't ask me what's on the schedule. Ask the kids.

We'd like to know: What's happening at your house?

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.