Fact: Everybody loves a winner. As the old adage goes, it isn't whether you win or lose but how you play the game...Yeah, right. That's certainly not the message American society sends. From Little League to Survivor, the emphasis is always on who finished first. In peer relationships, as well, one of the most deeply-felt insults is Loser. Parents need to counteract this "win at all costs" attitude and teach their kids to deal with disappointment. But in this era of trophies-for-just-showing-up, it's an uphill battle to help our children understand the value of effort.
One way to make a dent is to teach our children to lose with dignity. Because as much as we all like to win, it is also true that nobody likes a sore loser. Courteous behavior begins at home. Here are four ways to start young children on the road to 'graceful losing':
Be a graceful winner. Be sure to say "Good game". Even if the score is lopsided, the other side probably tried their best. Stress that it's impolite to gloat. During board games at our house, one of the tactics I used was that the winner always had to clean up. It takes some of the sting away from losing.
Avoid the "Who won?" trap. Don't ask about the score right away. Instead, say "How did you play today?" Or, better yet, "Did you have fun?" If your child seems upset at a loss, it's OK to discuss it further. But focus on improvement, not the mistakes. End the discussion by looking forward: "There's always a next time."
Share a story. Sympathize with how your child feels - disappointed, angry, sad - by sharing a similar experience of your own. Be ready with an anecdote of what you learned from a loss. Your child will feel better when you say, "I was the worst player on the team at first, but Grampa wouldn't let me give up. Every year I got better and better because I really loved basketball, and being part of a team was important to me."
Be a good role model. Ironically, some of the worst behavior I've witnessed during kids' sporting events has come from the parents themselves. Children very often get over the loss quickly if left to their own devices. Meanwhile, the parents on the sidelines are still dissecting everything from the coach's decision-making to teammates' performances. Try not to be THAT parent and your child will notice!
What tried-and-true strategies have you used to help your child deal with losing?
Boston Irish is actually Maureen O'Brien, a Shine Parenting Guru, mom of twins, and the founder of www.destinationparenting.com. Her musings can also be found on Galtime.com. She is passionate about all things parenting.