Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole

Calming Kid's Competitive Streak

DEAR HARRIETTE: My child is obsessed with competition. His father and I are divorced, and his father is ultracompetitive, which I believe plays a role in my son's competitiveness. His father just so happens to be his little league baseball coach. I feel that the pressure that my ex-husband puts on him is affecting him in a negative way. My son and I were playing checkers one night, and I captured one of his pieces. His whole expression changed from happy-go-lucky to "I am a complete failure." It was only a game of checkers!

I want him to enjoy playing games and have fun, even if it that includes losing. How do I approach my ex-husband about this so that our son isn't always stressed? Winning is not everything. -- Too Competitive, Shreveport, La.

DEAR TOO COMPETITIVE: Start with your son. Do your best to instill your values in him. Describe what you understand healthy competition to be. Be vivid in your description so that he is clear about what it means to do your best without being overly anxious about winning. Talk to him about what it means to be a gracious loser. Remind him that in any activity where one can win or lose, most people will have each experience. That is natural.

Also, talk to your ex-husband. Describe to him what has been happening and what your concerns are. Ask him to support you in teaching your son how to be competitive in a healthy way, rather than an all-or-nothing way. Be careful not to chastise your ex. Approach him as an equal, as a co-parent. By treating him with respect, you create more space for him to listen to you and consider your position.

DEAR HARRIETTE: My wife wants to put our child into pageants, and I am totally against this. I am married to a Southern woman who grew up around pageants. I grew up on the West Coast in Santa Cruz, Calif., surfing and skateboarding. I think the main reason for my strong position against pageants is because of the show "Toddlers & Tiaras." Those mothers are crazy, and I would not like my child to be one of those toddlers. I'm not firm on a lot of things, but this, for some reason, is one of the things I am very passionate about. I don't want my child to do it. What do I say to my wife so that she isn't angry with me? -- Anti-Pageantry, Syracuse, N.Y.

DEAR ANTI-PAGEANTRY: Your worries are valid, as are your wife's interests. Do know that a TV reality show does not make a pageant. Those shows are designed to amplify the extremes in order to get ratings. That said, encouraging a child to grow up and dress as an adult can have emotional consequences.

Talk this out with your wife. Make sure she understands how upsetting this is to you. Suggest a compromise, such as acting or dance. If you remain wholly against pageants, ask your wife to honor your gut and choose something else.