There is an art to winning and losing, and it’s one that many of us struggle with even as adults.
We all want to win — whether it’s at work, in a weekend warrior sporting event, or at a board game with friends. Winning feels good. But as we all know, we all can’t win all the time.
There is also an art to losing. As a kid, I hated to lose. I hated it so much that my family members love to tell stories about how angry and inconsolable I would become if I lost a card game. It took all the fun out of playing with me.
As our children grow up, they will be thrust into the world of winners and losers in school activities, playground games, and academic and athletic competitions. We would do a service to them and to ourselves if we can teach them a few things about handling the outcome of those competitions. Here are a few thoughts to consider.
1. Talk Beforehand
One of our children struggles mightily with losing. If things don’t go his way in a game, he blows up and stalks off. We try to have a conversation before every game or competition to remind him that no matter the outcome, we want to have fun during the game. It might help your children to have a similar conversation and enable them to understand that winning and losing is immaterial. It’s about whether they put forth a good effort and have some fun with their family and friends at the same time.
2. Trying Is Everything
If your child has a healthy outlook on competition, it will probably be easier for them to accept the outcome, whatever it is. How do you help them achieve that outlook? One of the ways is to focus not on the outcome of a competition, but the effort involved. If you reinforce to your child that all they need to do in a game is to try their best, it will go a long way toward enabling them to see the competition in a light other than winning and losing.
3. Don't Sweat the Small Stuff
One of the problems is that our children place so much emphasis on winning and losing that it becomes all-consuming to them. It’s only natural. It’s all-consuming for many adults, too. Our culture places a large premium on winning, and it seems that winners get all the spoils. But we all know that while winning feels great, it's also fleeting. If you can help your children understand that while winning gives us a high, it is not the end all, be all of who they are. Similarly, losing does not define them, either.
4. We Learn From Losing
An important lesson for all of us to take away from competition is how much we learn and how much we grow from losing. There are countless stories of athletes like Michael Jordan, who was turned away from his high school basketball team only to use that experience as motivation to achieve his goals. It’s critical for our kids to hear from you after they lose.
First, you might have to console them about losing. Second, you need to reinforce the positives of their effort. Third, and this might come a few hours after the game when their emotions have settled, help them figure out what they need to work on and how they can improve their skills to do better the next time.
5. Keep Those Emotions in Check
Kids need to know that whining, screaming, or throwing a tantrum if they lose a game is unacceptable. It reinforces all the negativity about competition and it won’t be tolerated. In fact, you probably need to remind your children that if they cannot try to keep their emotions in check after a game or sporting event, they might not be able to play anymore. It’s that serious. Show them that there’s an art to losing gracefully. For instance, find real world examples from the sports world where athletes come together and hug or shake hands after a game as a sign of good sportsmanship. That might go a long way toward helping them see the proper behavior, rather than seeing an athlete who blows up at teammates or coaches.
6. Gloating Is Ugly
Children also need to be told that gloating is not proper behavior. For instance, gloating makes others feel bad that they lost. It also makes the winner seem unkind and thoughtless. If you can show them how someone wins gracefully — shakes the hand of their opponent, compliments them on a good effort, and then celebrates with their teammates — it might give them a good example to live by. We want our kids to feel good about themselves no matter the outcome.