He told me he was afraid of losing

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kelly shealer 4Earlier 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.

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Author: Kelly Shealer

Kelly Shealer is the mom of 2 active boys and 1 adventurous girl, all born almost exactly 2 years apart. Kelly encourages imaginative play and messy art projects and sees everything as a learning opportunity. She also enjoys the library, relaxing at the beach and cooking Italian food. Kelly is a postpartum doula and API Leader in Frederick, Maryland, USA.

2 thoughts on “He told me he was afraid of losing”

  1. Sounds like you made the encouragement strong each step of the way with your son by beginning with the first talk. So happy it was a good experience.
    I have a 5 year old grandson that I caretake 15-20 hours weekly. We take adventures together exploring our hometown of NYC. Sometime he doesn’t want to do things that come up while on the adventure and as we talk through situations he reveals his fears– often as we move through the situation. What is the wonderful outcome happens afterward when he verbalizes how is mind changed.

  2. To me it sounds like you DID force him to do something, or at least push him. You signed him up without talking to him first, so when he said he didn’t want to, I feel like the response should have been, “You didn’t choose to sign up and you don’t have to do it, but let’s discuss it and maybe you will decide you want to.”

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