Whether it is a board game or a soccer game, once children are old enough to wrap their minds around winning, they cannot handle losing. Their grief leads parents to “throw” every game so that their child wins every time, or they make up games where everyone is a winner (I will admit to doing this one). But inevitably, a child has to learn to accept that this time, in this game, they didn’t prevail.
What makes them learn to handle this without doing a “John McEnroe” and throwing the game board all over the room, or screaming in the car on the way home from the field?
- Model the emotions of losing, not just the noble way to lose. Kids need to know that it is normal to feel bad about losing, just not behaving badly and not feeling devastated. Seeing and especially hearing someone say how they feel helps children learn about their own emotions. Play a game with your partner as well as your child, run a relay race, etc. Just talking about it isn’t enough for young children. They want to see the drama unfold. If you showboat around the living room, you might want to reconsider that one.
- While we are speaking about showboating, you can comment to your older children on the behavior of sports figures. Older kids can comprehend why that isn’t admirable behavior, and they need to hear why you think that.
- Tell children why adults don’t cry when they lose (most of the time). It is very simple: we know we will get another chance to win the next time we play. We are still sad, because everyone wants to win. They need to know that is true as well. We also know that the best part of the game is playing, or else it isn’t really fun.
- If your partner/spouse doesn’t display the same equanimity about losing, you have a conversation in front of you. Raging and bad behavior on the field or the rink has become dangerous, and you want no part of it. Some adults were never taught these things, and some people have such limited lives that games really are that important in them. They need help to grow up and reach for greater things.