Does your child get upset when he loses? Good sportsmanship and winning and losing social skills are important to teach. Here’s how:
“Woo hoo! I won!” I exclaimed after I dropped the red coin into the slot. I made four dots to connect, enough to win a game of Connect Four.
Meanwhile, my son’s lips quivered, his eyes welled up, and in a matter of seconds, he was in tears.
This wasn’t the first time, either. Another day, we were playing Candyland and he pouted when I explained he had to slide a few spots back.
“That’s part of the game,” I tried to reassure him.
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Teaching your child winning and losing social skills
No one likes to lose, but we all do at some point, even when we feel like we gave it our all. From board games to school competitions, we can’t protect our kids from the disappointment and anger that come with losing.
Instead, we need to help them develop the skills of coping with a loss. To encourage good sportsmanship, and to treat all players with respect.
By far, the best way to teach these skills is to model it ourselves and give them plenty of opportunities to manage losing and disappointment. Take a look at these tips to learn how:
1. Explain the rules of the game
One way to teach winning and losing social skills is by starting the activity with the right expectations in mind. Explain the point of the game before you play, including the rules and circumstances that allow a player to win.
For instance, explain that the board game means that players might move backward too, or that toppling the blocks is part of Jenga. Knowing the rules before your child starts makes it seem less shocking when she loses. It’ll also remove any sense of unfairness because the rules have been established.
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2. Focus on team effort
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I realized my mistake the minute I whooped, “Woo hoo!” after winning Connect Four. I celebrated my victory too much, to the point where my son had no choice but to slink in his seat, realizing he’d lost.
Now I know better than to be too celebratory after winning, or to even focus on winning so much. I don’t sugar coat competition, but I now focus on teamwork instead.
For instance, all three boys had been playing Zingo (think kid-version of Bingo). At some point, one of us would finally fill our card and claim “victory.”
Except we’d focus on filling everyone’s cards before calling it quits, waiting until we’d all crossed the finish line. Even if one person finished first, everyone got a chance to finish their card.
3. Let your child lose
In many social situations, it’s tempting to save your child from loss and failure. You might let her win, especially when you know she has no chance at doing so on her own.
Trouble is, this gives her a false notion of playing and competition. Allowing her to lose gives her an even better gift than winning: the ability to cope with disappointment.
Saving her from every struggle won’t shield her from these challenging feelings. By letting her to lose, you’re helping her develop grit, perseverance, self-regulation, and strategic thinking.
You’re better off showing her new techniques to try or explaining the rules once again. You might even take a break, or play only one round. But don’t allow her to win every game because you don’t want her to feel sad or upset.
4. Show empathy
What do you when, despite explaining the rules of the game and focusing on team effort, your child is still devastated? He may have even launched into a full-blown tantrum, unable to handle losing the game.
If you’re like me, you may have grumbled to yourself at what a poor sport he’s being. This isn’t what you imagined when you suggested playing card games—you thought you’d have fun sitting around the coffee table. Instead, he’s in tears because he doesn’t know how to lose gracefully.
Before you lose your own temper, remind yourself this is normal.
He’s still coping with the concept of winning and losing and learning how to manage loss and disappointment. He might think the whole thing unfair, feel overwhelmed with negative emotions, or not have the vocabulary to communicate clearly.
Then, show empathy. If he’s crying too much, let your body language and facial expressions do the talking. Once he’s calm, acknowledge his emotions and explain that we all feel that way sometimes. You might say, “You seem upset you lost the game. I would too if I worked hard but still lost.”
His tantrum, though not the best way to handle a loss, is still something he’s working on. The more empathetic you can be to his feelings and actions, the quicker his path to managing them better.
5. Praise your child (and not just for winning)
Imagine that winning is the only thing you praise your child for as you’re playing the game. Each step forward on the game board gets applause, and the winner gets to boast and dance. Meanwhile, you forget to praise her for other overlooked skills.
When playing a game, praise her for any behavior you want to see continue, like:
- handling a loss well
- not giving up
- being a good sport
- helping her brother understand the game
- trying a new strategy
- learning from her mistakes
- cheering other players on
- making good choices
Even if she doesn’t win, she’s showing an amazing display of good sportsmanship that deserves attention. That way, games won’t be only about winning—she’ll learn to value and develop these other skills as well.
I’ll admit: I sometimes hesitate playing competitive games with my kids. I dread placating their crying or dealing with a sore loser. Still, younger children need to learn how to cope with these wild emotions and the inevitability of loss.
Explain the rules and expectations before you start so that losing doesn’t seem unfair. Focus on team effort so you’re all cheering one another on. As difficult as losing may be, don’t shield your child from experiencing its disappointment, as this will develop grit and resilience.
Show empathy so he feels heard and understood, while you learn to be more patient with his behavior. And finally, praise not only for winning, but for progress as well, from being a good sport to taking a loss in good stride.
Kids need to know it’s okay to lose, no matter how frustrating. That other skills, like good sportsmanship and effort, are just as worthy as winning a game. And they learn not only how to win with humility, but how to lose gracefully.
Even when their mom slips the last red coin in the slot and wins the game.
Get more tips:
- How to Respond when Your Child Loses a Competition
- On Accepting Your Children for Who They Are
- 5 Things You Need to Do to Handle Your Threenager
- “He Needs You”: How to Help Your Angry Child
- Do You Know What to Do when Your Child Acts Out in Public?
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