It’s important for parents to teach their children how to be good losers. The ability to accept defeat with honor is a skill that will serve kids well in childhood and even later on, during their adult lives.
So how can parents teach their kids the art of losing? Consider the following:
Whenever Kids Take a Loss, Empathize and Encourage
Losing is very threatening because it can make a person feel weak or inadequate. Celebrating a child’s strengths and emphasizing the child’s power to continuously improve, can provide an antidote to insecure thoughts and feelings while it simultaneously teaches the child how to think about his or her own performance. For instance, suppose a child entered a chess tournament and lost a game. Parents can first empathize with the feelings of disappointment of losing and, afterward, go on to discuss various strengths and strategies: “Yes, I know that you feel bad about losing. You really put up a good battle! You scored a lot of points with that excellent move you made on the third turn. With a few more moves like that, you’ll soon be beating that fellow! Just keep at it!”
Give Your Child a Legitimate Outlet for his Frustration
It’s understandable for kids to have negative feelings about losing. In fact, your child’s upset should tell you that he or she has a healthy desire for achievement as well as a developed sense of competition. A person gets upset after losing because he is motivated, because he worked hard at his activity, or because he wants the benefits that come with winning. Disappointment is the natural consequence of losing.
Instead of negating your children’s feelings (“There’s no reason to be upset…”), respect your child’s right to be upset. If he needs to be alone for awhile, or cry in front of you, then let him. Use Emotional Coaching (the naming of feelings) to help him process his disappointment (“I know it’s hard to lose when you’ve practiced so long and tried so hard. It’s very disappointing.”) Naming the feelings helps them move more quickly out of the child’s psyche. It’s important that kids learn that it’s safe to feel whatever they really feel and to express what they feel appropriately (in words) rather than act out their upset inappropriately by walking out, stomping out, insulting their opponent, or refusing to accept a judge’s or referee’s decision.
Model What It’s Like to Lose Gracefully
The best way to teach your child how to gracefully accept defeat is by gracefully accepting your own losses. You best meal didn’t make the finals of the cook-out? Then express sadness, but don’t whine, pout or badmouth your opponents. Your boss gave the promotion you’ve been angling for to your annoying office mate? Then let your child see that you wish your peer well.
If you can share stories of resiliency in your family, trials and disappointment that you’ve overcome just by simply maintaining a healthy attitude, then you are on your way in instilling sportsmanship in your child. You may also provide your child with positive role models for sportsmanship through selected movies, books and personal stories.
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Encourage Your Child to Engage in a Variety of Activities
Some kids take defeat to heart because they have already defined themselves solely in terms of the sport, game or endeavor that they have decided to pursue. But just because a child is a brilliant pianist doesn’t mean that is all he or she is. Likewise, being a skilled quarterback is not the entirety of a child’s personality. Encourage your child to pursue other sources of self-esteem, enjoyment and satisfaction. This way when they lose, they know it’s just one game — not the end of the world.
Take the Pressure Off
As a parent, you need to ask yourself from time to time: “Do I want my child to win way more than he or she wants to win?” What if you’re a frustrated skater, and want your child to live the dreams you never reached? Putting undue pressure on a child can take away the enjoyment of a competition, and force your child to view losing in terms of disappointing not only himself, but you and maybe others as well. This can inflate the seriousness of the loss in the child’s mind, lifting it out of the realm of losing a playful game to the realm of failing to meet the expectations of significant others. Therefore, be careful not to act like your child’s success or failure in a particular endeavor is exceedingly important to YOU! You need to be fine with your child’s failure before you can ever hope that he or she will survive it. When a child senses that he or she is disappointing a parent through a failure or loss, it is much harder for the child to put that loss into perspective and move gracefully forward. Seeing your child as more than a performer will help the child see him or herself in a healthier, more balanced perspective as well.
Lastly, Teach Your Child to be a Good Winner
Empathy is a good tool in teaching children how to accept defeat gracefully. When your child wins a game, encourage him or her to imagine the feelings of those on the losing the team and encourage him or her to reach out to the opponents with congratulations for a good match. Let them enjoy what it’s like to be on the winning side of the fence without becoming arrogant or aggressive. This way when it’s their turn to lose, they will be more able to empathize with their winning opponent, and offer heartfelt congratulations.