Helping Your Child Deal with Losing A Game

One of the most common challenges I see when working with kids, is difficulty with losing.  Many rounds of Candlyland have ended in tears and scattered game pieces.  For kids, losing can feel unexpected and extremely frustrating.  However, it’s important to learn to handle losing (and winning) in order to successfully navigate friendships.  So how can we help children learn to lose (and win) well from early on?  If you’ve ever found yourself wiping tears after a game, or rigging Candyland to avoid your child’s loss, then read on.  Here are 10 strategies to help your child better navigate winning and losing.

10 Ways To Help Your Child Handle With Losing:

  1. Prepare ahead-of time.  It can feel frustrating and unexpected for kids to lose a game.  Prepare your child ahead of time by introducing concepts of winning and losing, as well as how to respond.  For example: sore loser in a game“Sometimes we win, and sometimes our friends win.  It’s okay when our friends win!  Games are just for fun!”
  2. Redefine winningTalk to your child about what matters most.  Even though it’s fun to win, what matters most is sportsmanship, playing by the rules and being a good friend.  By prioritizing sportsmanship over winning, you can help your child feel accomplished for playing the game well, even if they didn’t win.
  3. Praise what is going well.  If we want our kids to value sportsmanship, then give them positive praise and affirmation for good behaviors.  Talk about what is going well during or after a game.  Use clear and descriptive feedback (e.g. “Wow! You said ‘congratulations!’ That was such a friendly thing to say to your friend.”) .
  4. Learn to win gracefullyRehearse appropriate phrases to use when your child wins.  For example, “Good game! That was so fun to play together!”.  Give your child clear feedback about how their words might make others feel.  For example: “Uh oh, I think your friend felt sad when you said ‘I won and you lost!’ What’s something friendly you could say instead?”
  5. Learn to lose gracefully.  Rehearse appropriate phrases to use when your child loses.  For example, “Congratulations!” or “Great game!”.  Give your child clear feedback about how their responses might make their friends feel.  For example, “Uh oh, when you ran away, your friends felt sad. It’s not fun to play when you run away from the game.”
  6. Talk about itIf you notice your child is beginning to escalate, reintroduce some of the concepts you discussed earlier (e.g. “Sometimes we win, and sometimes our friends win. It’s okay when our friends win. Games are just for fun!”).  Use a calm and positive tone to show your child that everything is okay.   If needed, take some time out to regroup and calm down.
  7. Practice, practice, practice. The best way to learn is by doing, so practice playing games with your child.  You might start by playing a game one-on-one, and rehearsing appropriate phrases to say to others (e.g. “Good try!” or “Great job!”).  Start with a simple game that’s not overly complicated, so your child can focus more on sportsmanship and less on game strategy.  Next, you might practice games during a play-date with a few friends.
  8. Set a good example. Children learn by watching and imitating, so set the tone by modeling good sportsmanship.  This isn’t just limited to playing board-games, but also includes how you respond to other moments throughout your day (e.g. handling traffic, when your favorite team looses, etc.).
  9. Encourage self-reflecting.  Encourage your child to think about their behavior after a game.  What went well?  What can we work on next time?  Incorporate lots positive feedback for things that were successful (“Wow, I like the way you let your friend go first!”), as well as constructive ideas for what to do better next time.
  10. Finally, try again. Learning takes time and practice.  If your child has a bad day, or a game ends in a meltdown, don’t be afraid to try again the next time you play together.  Your child may try to avoid a particular game that they’ve previously lost.  Use a positive tone, and encouragement them to try again.
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