Every time my granddaughter and I play tic-tac-toe, I’m torn whether to “throw” the game and let her win or declare victory for myself every once in awhile. According to Stephanie Dolgoff, a contributing editor to Parenting magazine, learning how to lose gracefully (being a “good sport”) is one of the five skills every kid needs to be successful in life.
I spotted Dolgoff’s cover story while sitting in my dentist’s waiting room and it got me thinking: maybe I should not let my granddaughter win every time. “Learning how to lose at something, handle it, and then bounce back is critical to being happy,” says this mother of 6-year old twin girls.
Her article made me realize that when my granddaughter and I play games together, I can help her understand that losing is a part of life. So now I say to her: “Sometimes I’m going to win and the only way you can beat me is to practice.”
Here are some other tips for teaching your child how to be a good loser:
Model being a good loser over and over
Children watch how their parents handle upsets and frustrations. How you handle the stresses of your life sends a huge message to your kids. Act upset but philosophical: “Shoot, I really wanted to win. Oh well, next time, I’ll get you.” Encourage them to get better at the game by casually pointing out strategies they may have missed.
Wean them off of needing to win every time
When you win, say: “I won this time, but you made a great try.” If she gets upset, explain that losing is part of playing—the only person who truly loses is the one who doesn’t make an effort. Toddlers and preschoolers are more prone to throwing tantrums when they lose because they lack words to express the intense frustration they sometimes feel. So a certain amount of sore loser behavior is developmentally appropriate. By kindergarten age, this type of reaction should be changing into a give-and-take way of playing games.
Help the child put emotions into words
If your child loses, talk about some of the other aspects of the game so she realizes she can have fun without winning. Naming emotions helps defuse their power. Teach children the “feeling” words: angry, upset, frustrated, sad. Tell them it is okay to be angry but no one wins all the time.
Ironically, most experts agree that eliminating competition is not healthy. Competition gives a sense of purpose and can help kids learn resilience. Losing is a fact of life, and a child understands that on some level. Letting him win all the time is sending a message that he can’t handle losing.