Earlier this summer, I signed up my 5-year-old son for a kids’ triathlon — a bike race, running race and water obstacle course. I was sure he’d be excited. He loves to race in the yard and pretends he’s riding his bike in the Tour de France. But when I told him about it, he was adamant that he didn’t want to do it.
He told me he was afraid of losing.
I tried to explain to him that it wasn’t a timed race and that they weren’t naming a winner. Everyone was going to get a medal and a T-shirt. I talked to him about how it was for ages 3 to 6, so he would definitely be faster than a lot of the kids but that there might be some older kids who were faster than him, and I tried to help instill some confidence by telling him how he is really fast both on his bike and on his feet — which is true.
But he was still worried about not being fast enough.
I was really surprised by this, because we’d never pushed him into competition, so I wasn’t sure how to handle it. The race wasn’t something he had to do, and it would have been easy to say, “If you don’t want to do it, you don’t have to.” But I didn’t know if that was the best thing to do.
I knew that he’s going to have plenty of times where he does have to do something that he doesn’t want to do or is anxious about, and this could be an opportunity for me to help him through that gently and help him learn to cope with that type of situation. That’s ultimately what we decided to do.
I considered that maybe he wasn’t just anxious about not being the winner. It could have also been uncertainty about not knowing what to do or what to expect at the race, so my husband spent time the night before practicing with him and trying to give him a sense of what it would be like. This really helped change his attitude to one of excitement.
On the morning of the race, my son was happy and excited. We had learned that parents were allowed to run alongside their children for part of the race, so my husband planned to be with my son.
Just before the race, my son was nervous about where to go, and when it started, he immediately looked around to make sure his dad was with him. It was clear that he didn’t want to go on his own, but once he started bike-riding, it seemed like all his original concerns were gone. When he ran for his medal at the end of the race, he was smiling excitedly and having a blast.
I know that if my son’s anxiety about the race was much more intense, that morning could have been a lot different, but I do feel like my husband and I did our best to support him in what he was feeling. I’m happy that, instead of forcing him to do something he didn’t want to do without considering his feelings — or avoiding the situation altogether — we were able to help him handle his fears about it.