Toddler Emotions: I Wanted To Win!

As a follow-up to my blog post on Thursday — drum roll, please! — the results of the running race between 6-year old Stella and 3-year old are in: Stella won. The video here shows three-and-a-half year old Sam’s extreme magical thinking put to the test. He wanted to win the running race against his sister and me so badly, but, in the end, no amount of wishing it to be made it so.

Sam does a fine job using his words to express his ideas and feelings. At first, he tries to convince me that both he and Stella won the race. I challenged his extreme magical thinking by giving him the definition of winning as the person who “crossed the finish line first.” He expresses his disappointment that his magical thinking failed him. Undaunted, he expresses his limited understanding of winning a race against someone when he says “But, now I can win!” while about to run the race against himself. After a vocabulary lesson I give him in ordinal numbers (i.e., first, second, third) and being placed on the spot to admit he did not win the race, he takes off down the race lane. In the end, Sam plans to live in denial about the fact that no amount of extreme magical thinking can make him the winner.

There is so much inherent value in a child’s extreme magical thinking. There are opportunities for learning new vocabulary words to help understand one’s world better and for future school success. There is social-emotional development taking place in the safety of grown-ups who care about the child. In one instance of extreme magical thinking, a child can learn that it feels good to believe in oneself, to meet a challenge head-on, to receive some comfort from others when the magical thinking doesn’t work out, and to work through the outcome on one’s own.

What viewers don’t see in the video is what transpired next. Winning the race against himself was not fulfilling for him. He returned to Stella and me after his “big win,” and asked, “Stella, can you let me win?” When I suggested that he wouldn’t really be the winner if Stella let him win, he asked, “OK, well, Stella can you hold my hand so we can both win?” He reached out for her hand, Stella willingly took it, and they ran and won the race together.

There were many lessons for Sam in this 10-minute span at the park that he will carry with him as he enters school and continues to develop his language, emotional, social and sensory skills. He began to learn the lesson that sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose. He learned that sometimes it’s about wanting to win and the outcome is irrelevant. He showed the beginning of understanding that sometimes winning is a collaborative, or team, effort. He learned that sometimes it’s about getting other to cheer you on, be on your side, and support you in your efforts to win. Finally, he learned that sometimes it’s about convincing others to “let you win” because you need the confidence-boost and to remind you that the potential for a real win is always there if you keep practicing at winning.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s