Losing well

Losing well

I do mental health consultation in schools from time to time. I once heard about a school that was so fed up with playground shenanigans that they banned playing any games where there was a winner or loser. So kids couldn’t play any games, formally or informally, where a winner and loser would be the outcome.

Listen. I get the idea behind this. Kids, especially elementary-aged, can be competitive. Often tattle. And sometimes can be sensitive to losing. I get all of that and how hard it is to manage the constant report from kids about the unfairness of one thing or another on the playground. 

But never giving kids an opportunity to lose well is not the answer. 

Kids need to realize how it feels to be great, but also how to let other people be great. None of us likes to lose. But we only know the joy of winning because we have experienced the disappointment of defeat. 

The sooner we can teach our kids how to lose well, the better they will be at just about everything they do! 

Tips for losing well

  1. Focus on their effort, not their performance. Did they work hard? Did they have fun? Did they grow in any way? Then YAY!
  2. Tell them you are proud of them. No matter their performance or the outcome, share your pride in them. After all, they did get out there and try! 
  3. If they are angry, give them a moment. They are allowed to be upset after a loss. But they aren’t allowed to scream, kick, throw, etc. Set clear limits if your child is acting out physically – and then later have a deep discussion about being a positive influence to others after a game. If they are just pouting and sad, give them a minute. Then cheer them up and continue the discussion!
  4. Help them see the joy of others. Spend a few minutes after the game talking about how sometimes it stinks when others win, but it can also be fun to be happy for other people. 
  5. Find one positive thing – if they are really struggling. Have them tell you at least one thing that went well. If they can’t right away, come back to it later. Don’t let them get out of it, even if it is the next day!
  6. Model losing well yourself. Sometimes WE have a hard time losing well. Remember that our kids are always watching us for how they should respond.

If they are really terrible at losing – practice!

Sometimes our kids need to practice losing. You can set up a situation at home when you tell them… “I want to practice something with you. It might be frustrating, but I want you to see how to better control your body when you lose.” 

Proceed to play a game, or race of some sort, that you can first model losing well (i.e., congratulate him/her on working hard and winning), and then purposefully win the next time so you can walk them through how to lose well. Prompt them to say specific things. Have them take a deep breath. And repeat the process as many times as it takes for them to generalize this to a real game with their peers.

AND… if you ever see them losing well — Praise, praise, praise.


photo cred Pixabay