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Preteen Competitive Streak

Q. My 10-year-old turns everything into a contest. Not just games, but chores and schoolwork, too. Why?

A. While younger children are still testing their abilities, preteens are far more aware of other people's skills and successes, and more concerned with how they measure up, says Audrey Nathan, a clinical family social worker in Wellesley, MA. Kids this age also have more experience with the thrill of winning. They often end up taking actual contests very seriously  -- or creating their own out of ordinary things like putting away the dishes.

A little competition is healthy: It can challenge kids to try something new, and drive them to give their all. But a kid who tries to win at all costs, or who's crushed when someone else does better, may feel insecure. He could also be missing the fun  -- and importance  -- of the task at hand by focusing on the outcome. Understanding what drives him  -- to please Mom and Dad, to get bragging rights  -- is crucial.

Help your child find a good balance by keeping a lid on your own cutthroat genes. Instead of rallying him to dominate at school or on the field, encourage him toward his personal best.