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"?