Children – winners & losers

Discounting a child’s perception of reality.

I was doing some mother-son therapy the other day. As a consequence of our discussions she asked if I would put my views in writing.

I was informed by mother that at the boy’s school in years 1 to 3 they do not have winning and loosing. When the children competed in races, all the participants got a small banner at the end. The implication was that everyone was a winner just by competing. The rational is that young children may be adversely effected by ‘losing’ and they did not want to introduce the concept of winners and losers to children that young.

To my mind this is nonsense and the majority of children are quite resilient and are quite capable of handling not winning a running race at school. Being one of the “losers”, so to speak. However there is a more insidious possible outcome and that is a discount of a child’s reality.

Discounting a child’s reality is the most pathological kind of discount a parent can do. A child’s Adult ego state perceives reality to be a certain way. If a parent (or school) then says to the child its perception of reality is incorrect (when it’s not) that can cause significant psychological damage, if there is a pattern of that discounting over time. It damages the child’s belief and faith in its own Adult ego state observations which psychologically is most unwise.


Those children who are told there are no losers and everyone wins are going to be confused. That statement is not consistent with reality. The dictionary definition of win and lose is clear. The person who crosses the line first is the winner and the others have lost the running race. Each time a child watches television it sees the olympics, horse races, motor car races, swimming races and so forth endlessly. It sees that one person wins each of these races and the others have lost the race. The winner gets a prize and those that lost, don’t get a prize.

If schools are going to adopt these polices they need to be careful not to discount a child’s perception of reality. At the very least the child’s perception needs to be validated and it needs to be informed that the concepts of win and lose do exist and if it did not pass the finish line first then it lost the race. Its observations in this way are accurate. At the very least this needs to be communicated to the child in an age appropriate way.

However if one does that then the school policy becomes meaningless and just confusing. One can’t tell a child that in its running race there are no winners and losers and then say, well there are such things as winners and losers. The first to cross the line is a winner and the other’s lost the race. The winner gets a prize and the those who lost, do not get a prize. But, on the other hand if you don’t cross the line first then you are still a winner and you get a little prize as well.

The child knows if it crossed the line first or not and this needs to be acknowledged in some way by the parents. When that happens the child knows if it has won or lost as it has seen that on television many times and heard it peers and parents talk about such things. If parents do this that makes a nonsense of the school policy. It is saying, “We all know what winning and losing is, we know if you won or lost but we pretend that it didn’t happen or we just don’t think about it.”

My suggestion is one be open about it with the child. The child either won or lost. If it won that is great if it didn’t win that’s OK and it keeps running races if it likes it and if it doesn’t it does some other kind of sport that it does like, that it may or may not win at. All in all it is no big deal but lets not discount a child’s Adult ego state perceptions.

To me the most surprising thing about all this is we are actually having the discussion. Winning and losing are no big deal at least for the majority of us. With children the more you keep it that way the better. School policies as described above have the real danger of making it a big deal to children. They say to the child that there is something wrong about winning and loosing that they have to be protected against.

Besides this children will do it anyway. People naturally want to compare self against others and that can mean they compete in some way. This is a thing many, if not all of us do and it is good psychologically as it gives one more of a sense of who I am.  It allows the child to add one more piece to the large jigsaw puzzle of who I am. Am I a fast or slow runner? We need to let the child discover these things.


It seems natural that people compare themselves against each other at times. It lets us gain a more complete sense of who we are.



Children will create their own ‘races’:

who can throw the rock the furthest
who can kick the ball the longest,
who wins at snakes and ladders,
who wins at cards,
and yes little boys will see who can urinate the highest up the wall.

They will create their own situations for winning and losing and its no big deal. So why don’t the schools just leave it alone. It is more likely to create a problem rather than solve anything.

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