Important Lessons for Kids: How to Not Be a Sore Loser

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A Mommybites reader asked, “What should I do if my child is a sore loser?”

It is important to teach a kid how not to be a sore loser, as well as how not to quit things because they are difficult. Luckily, Dr. Sarah Klagsbrun has come up with some helpful tips to help children “lose” and still feel good about themselves.

Why do children have a hard time losing?

Children often have difficulty because their parents have a hard time losing, making mistakes, or admitting they were wrong. Parents often mimic their parents’ parenting. If their parents criticized them when they lost, and only saw achievement as winning, they will often transmit this worldview to their child. They can avoid this by making a conscious effort to present losing in a positive light. I’m hoping that after my discussion, parents will begin to view losing as a positive thing.

Another reason why children have difficulty being OK with making mistakes is that they were never taught how to lose. Losing does not come naturally. It’s not something you grow into, or with which you become more comfortable with age. You need to learn how to practice, not give up, make mistakes – and feel good about yourself in the process.

How do I teach my child to lose or make a mistake and be OK with it?

  • You need to believe that losing can be a positive occurrence, and communicate this message to your child.
  • Watch sports events, noticing other people making mistakes or challenging themselves.
  • Help your child deal with disappointment by allowing those feelings.
  • Practice losing with your child. When your child loses, you might say, “Oh, man” – as if it is not a huge deal in the scheme of things. Great games to teach this are Sorry and Trouble because you can never predict who will actually win – oftentimes someone can appear to be losing and then win in the end, or vice versa.

What are helpful responses vs. not helpful responses?

Helpful responses are those which support and encourage your child. A negative (not helpful) response is any comment with criticism in it.

Talk about how there will always be people who are both better and not as good as your child at certain things, but that the key to winning and getting better is practice.

What if my child cheats?

This means your child is not comfortable with losing and feels like a “loser” when they don’t win. If your child cheats, you as the parents need to work on helping your child feel like a winner on the inside – even when they lose. Again, this is a skill that takes time to learn. The younger you teach your child this skill, the better at losing and accepting losses they will be.

Should I let my child win at games?

I say no, generally. Certainly not every time! I always play to win, and tell my children that I should win most of the time when we’re playing games I’ve been playing for 30 or more years than they have. Plus, I tell my children I will teach them all of my strategies so they’ll be a great player with their friends. You also want your child to feel like they really won when they play with you, and that you were an honest opponent.

If you let your child win on purpose, how will they ever believe they really won a game with you? At some point, children figure out that you lost on purpose, which will leave them wondering if they actually won all those Candyland and Chutes & Ladders games.

As a therapist, when I play board games with children, I will sometimes let them win, or I’ll make the game more equal intentionally. I use this approach when I’m working with children who are having trouble losing – so if I repeatedly beat them at a game, they will never want to play again. My goal here is to help them build up their self esteem, and then slowly win more frequently to help the child hold onto self esteem when they do lose.

Read Next | Is it OK for Kids to Quit?

What if my child wants to quit in the middle of a game he knows he is losing?

Do your best to try not to let this happen. Explain to your child that you will feel proud of them if they finish a game that they know they’ll lose – rather than quit. Teach your child that in life, you win some and you lose some – and that quitting is usually not the best option.

Should I let my child quit a team or afterschool activity?

Not if the reason is that they don’t feel they’re as good as the other players. If that’s the case, my advice would be to work with your child, or ask the coach to help your child practice to get better. Even if your child is still not as good as the other players, I’d emphasize how far they’ve come – and that it’s not about a comparison with the other players, but instead focusing on how much they’ve improved.

If your child wants to quit because the program is not run well, or the coaches are unsupportive, then I would say it’s best to support your child and allow them to quit and move on.

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The views and opinions expressed on this blog are purely the blog contributor’s. Any product claim, statistic, quote or other representation about a product or service should be verified with the manufacturer or provider. Writers may have conflicts of interest, and their opinions are their own.

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