5 Tips To Help Your Child Cope With Losing

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Why Are Kids Today Such Sore Losers?

BY DR SARAH HUGHES

Kids today don’t like to lose…at anything. School tests, board games, computer games, sports, you name it. If there’s a competitive element, kids struggle when they’re not on the winning side. So why are kids today such bad losers?

Can your child cope with losing?

Can your child cope with losing?

Some kids are born perfectionists. They have an innate drive to be the best and when they’re not, their whole world falls apart. To perfectionistic kids, winning is everything because losing is confirmation that they’re ‘not good enough’.

Others kids get caught up in the moment and their emotional outbursts at losing are a result of their inability to regulate the array of emotions – disappointment, frustration, sadness, anger – that come into play when we lose. But I can’t help but wonder whether there’s more to it than this, and it begs the question…

Where do kids today learn that winning is everything?

Schools have a lot to answer for in this respect. They might try to promote effort over achievement, but at the end of the year awards for academic excellence far outnumber awards for effort and improvement. Likewise, kids who excel in sport are showered with far more accolades than kids who have a go and try their best.

Perhaps in reaction to this, there’s a growing trend to promote non-competitive environments in pre-school and early primary school aged children. Soccer games are score free so there are no winners and no losers. Even birthday parties are competition free zones with everyone winning a prize in pass the parcel. But does protecting kids from competition help them to learn that winning isn’t everything or is this why kids today can’t tolerate losing?

What do we teach kids if we remove the ‘winners and losers’ element of competition? Do they learn that who wins and who loses is less important than the fun you have playing the game, or do they learn that losing is bad, it’s so bad in fact that we have to make sure there are no losers.

A child’s ability to cope with losing will increase as they develop skills to tolerate frustration, but even the most able child will struggle to tolerate losing if they’ve not had practice. Protecting your child from disappointment might help them in the short-term, but in the longer-term it creates more problems.

So what can you do? Try these 5 tips to build your child’s skills for coping with the disappointment of losing.

Tip #1: Avoid Focusing On Outcomes

When your child has a test at school or a sports game, don’t immediately ask “What mark did you get?” or “Did you win?” Without meaning to, these questions tell your child ‘winning is important’. Instead, ask process questions like “What did you learn?” or “Was it a good game? Did you have fun?”

Tip #2: Practice What You Preach

Kids will learn more from what you do than they will from what you say. When you’re playing competitive games at home make sure you model being a good loser and a good winner. Resist the urge to gloat about your wins, and when you lose, congratulate the other player and thank them for taking the time to play with you.

Tip #3: Practice, Practice, Practice

Help your child to practice being a good loser by not always letting them win. If you see them struggling – stick to your plan. Give your child lots of praise for continuing to play even though they’re not winning and try to focus on elements of the game other than whose winning and who’s losing, for example “I always love playing games with you because you make them fun”

Tip #4: Help Your Child Keep Their Losses in Perspective

When you’re caught up in the moment, the importance of winning is amplified. Help your child keep their losses in perspective by asking questions like “Will this matter next week or in a few weeks’ time?” If your child is really distressed you might get a “Yes it will!”, so do an experiment. Ask your child to rate out of 5 how much their loss matters to them at the time, and ask them again a week or two later. Repeat this anytime your child is distressed about losing to help them see that sometimes things we think are super important, actually don’t matter that much.

Tip #5: Praise Effort + Improvement

Be conscious of how often you praise achievement versus effort and improvement. Even if you tell your child that trying their best is all that matters, if your praise is weighted more heavily towards achievement this message will get lost and your child will learn that their achievements are more important than their effort. You can also send a clearer message by praising your child before the outcome. Try celebrating your child making the grand final before the day, or reward your child for working so hard all term before their school report is delivered.

Dr. Sarah Hughes is a clinical psychologist and the founder of Think Clinical Psychologists. She enjoys working with children, adolescents, and adults, and specialises in anxiety, depression, postnatal depression, eating disorders, self-harm, and challenging behaviour.