What to Do When Your Kid Is a Sore Loser

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Have you ever watched a game of tag where one kids always yells “time out!” two seconds before he gets caught? I remember those days well. Kids have been slightly bending the rules of playground games in their favor to avoid losing for as long as I can remember. It's part of growing up.

But some kids have a really hard time losing. Some kids melt into a puddle of tears or storm off yelling about the unfairness of it all when they lose a game, be it a playground game, an organized sport or a board game at home.

Losing isn't a ton of fun for everyone, but learning how to lose with dignity is an important skill. Sure there is a place in this world for healthy competition, but as I tell my son from time to time, when one kid always has to be the winner, other kids eventually walk away.

Got a sore loser on your hands? You're not alone! This is fairly common in the preschool and early elementary school years. The good news is that you can work on being a not-so-sore loser at home so that your child has more fun with friends at school.

board game
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Step #1: Practice losing.

The truth of the matter is that we can't all get to the Candy Castle at the same time. Someone has to get there first. More often than not, parents of young children find creative ways to fall behind to spare the feelings of their little ones. Once in a while, this is no big deal. But when parents always lose the games, kids think they are unbeatable. It's a false sense of success that comes crashing down around them when they play with other kids.

{ MORE: 4 Tips for Practicing Patience Through Tantrums }

Games are supposed to be fun. We get so caught up in winning and losing these days that we forget to enjoy the ride. The best way to practice losing is to let your kids lose at board games sometimes. Play for fun. Play for time spent together. Play to connect. Win or lose, playing together should be fun. When your child learns that losing is no big deal, he'll enjoy the play more than the final result.

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Step #2: Acknowledge feelings.

It's exciting to win a game if Hungry Hungry Hippos! It also stinks to lose three times in a row. Some kids are more sensitive than others and some get very emotionally invested in playing games. Resist the urge to brush off their feelings and definitely do not tease them for having feelings.

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Acknowledge the feelings (positive and negative) that accompany group play and talk about those big emotions. Believe it or not, the more you do this at home with small things like board games, the better coping skills your child will have down the line on the playing field.

{ MORE: Bite Your Tongue, Mama! 7 Times It’s Probably Better to Say Nothing at All }

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Step #3: Model good sportsmanship.

We love to practice our touchdown dances in our house, but only when we're not actually playing a game. When we play sports as a family, we focus on fun and sportsmanship.

Trash talking and celebrating too much teaches poor sportsmanship. You wouldn't want your child to do that out on the recess yard or in a soccer game, would you? Keep the celebrations simple and compliment each other for good moves and playing hard.

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Step #4: Confront cheating.

Calling a time out when you're about to be tagged is cheating, and other kids don't like it. Lots of kids find ways to cheat in board games or bend the rules in playground games. It's actually a very normal part of child development. They're trying to figure out how far they can push.

Instead of ending the game or dishing out consequences, I always find it useful to address it. “It looks like you're changing the rules because you really want to win this game,” sends a clear message. Talk about the choices your child is making and how it would impact playing with other kids.

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Step #5: Have a positive post-game chat.

Although parents enjoy rehashing every tense moment in a basketball game, kids don't always love that. They want to talk about the fun they had and their favorite part of the game.

Keep post-game chats (whether it's a sport or a board game) positive in nature. Ask for tips if your child seems to have something down and share your own strategies. My son recently beat me in Clue by using one of my husband's strategies. He told me about it at the end of the game.

{ MORE: What's the Deal with Big Kid Tantrums? }

Bottom line: When we dial back the competition and address the hard parts of winning and losing, we teach our kids to win and lose with grace. That's a lesson worth sharing.

 

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What to Do When Your Kid Is a Sore Loser

Katie Hurley, LCSW is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and writer in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" and "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World". She earned her BA in Psychology and Women's Studies from Boston College and her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania. She divides her time between her family, her private practice and her writing. Passionate about he ... More

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