Dancing With The (Good) Stars

Orangeboy usually refuses to watch "family" movies with us, and doesn't watch the Saturday morning shows with his siblings. On Sunday night when we sit down as a family to watch ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition", we have given up on trying to convince him to join the rest of us. However, last night, he sat down with me and watched an entire encore episode of "Dancing with the Stars".
I had to think about why he would want to watch that particular show. Dancing? Stars? He's certainly not a big celebrity watcher and he isn't into dancing or even music, that much. And, no, it wasn't because he wanted special time with Mom. Sorry, all you soft-hearted warm fuzzy folks out there - I'm sure it wasn't that.
I had to think about it awhile and I finally decided that he likes the show purely because it is a contest with numerical scores and a final winner. He likes the numbers and he always likes the clear and obvious purposefulness involved in winning a contest. Winning a contest where there is a final winner who gets the top score and takes the prize is clear and meaningful to Orangeboy.
This is why he turns almost everything he can into a contest. School is a contest where he strives to get the top score. A walk to his grandparents' from the house is a slow foot race that he tries to "win". When he was a preschooler, he would cry if he didn't get his seatbelt buckled first or if he got into the car or house last. He is obviously pleased when he finds himself to be the first child to make it into the kitchen for breakfast in the morning. Likewise, he is a terrible loser when he doesn't win a boardgame or when he struggles to master a video game.

Given all this and his "diagnosis", I wonder if continuing to beat my head against the wall trying to teach him sportsmanship, friendship, and negotiation is the right tactic to take. Maybe I should just try to encourage him to do more things that he can "win". Maybe I should praise him enthusiastically for every win in order to build his self-esteem, rather than giving a modest reaction to his good grades and other "wins" in an attempt to try and reduce his emphasis on beating everyone. If a top score is what he understands as a clear positive, will he just strive and compete all the harder to please me if I underplay his wins?
In trying to get him to understand that scoring, winning, and beating aren't the most important things in life, I may be blowing it. Friendship, social skills, empathic ability, and "goodness" are hard to quantify and define. Getting a 100% on a test and winning at Monopoly are much easier for a logical, mathematical mind to understand and feel good about.
But will he automatically become a "good" person when he feels he is a "winner"?


  1. Hi, China! Just wanted to congratulate you--I just gave you the One-Minute Writing of the Day award for your response to the "Lie" prompt. Good job! :)

    C. Beth

  2. China, you may remember from another post you wrote about Orangeboy and games that I really connect with this aspect of Orangeboy's personality. 99% of what you wrote in this post about him applies to me, too. Scores, winning, etc. -- all things I LOVE! I've been getting exercise this winter because we got a Wii Fit, and I can see scores, see graphs that show how much I've done, etc.

    Having said that, it has been absolutely critical for me to learn good sportsmanship and to at least try to not show my disappointment at losing. At age 33, it's still really hard (more or less so depending on what the game/contest is). As weird as it may sound, I actually put a tiny piece of my self-worth in each game or contest I play, and when I lose, it is as if that piece of my self was worth nothing. (So the larger the piece of my self I put into it, the harder it is to lose.)

    Another aspect of my personality that may be relevant for Orangeboy is my sense of justice. I've always been really concerned about things being fair. You can use this in helping him to accept losing games/contests. As long as it was a fair game/contest, then regardless of who won, the "right" person won. It was a fair and just contest/game.

    If I were in your shoes, I think I would:

    1) Continue to enjoy Orangeboy's "wins" with him, without downplaying them or making them into anything huge.
    2) When Orangeboy loses, empathize with the pain of losing and then remind him of something good that happened. The "something good" could be how happy his friend is that won, that he did something better than he ever had before, that the game was played really fairly, whatever. The point of this is to help him to understand that there can be good in losing.
    3) Make sure that Orangeboy sees how proud you are of him every single time that he tries something and does NOT win. He needs to know that he IS worth something even when he doesn't win.

    Give Orangeboy a bear hug from his female grown-up alter ego, okay?


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