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Learning to Lose

We all know that learning to gracefully lose is a part of being an adult. Or at least, I hope it is. But, for children it an be a very difficult skill to learn. Losing a game, a race, or a challenge can be deeply disappointing, sparking anger and outrage in small children. For a time, these large reactions can be avoided if you skip games or ensure that your child wins. However, these tricks are short lived and guiding your child through a loss is a much better life skill. 

In our house we just had to upgrade to a second game cabinet we love games so much! Games are not something we avoid because losing is hard, but games are another amazing learning opportunity for our children. Here are a few tips on how to teach your children how to lose. 

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Cooperative Games

Especially for children under 6, stick to cooperative games. In these games, there isn't one winner or loser. Either the game is not about winning or losing at all or you're playing against the game. You are learning to work as a team. Therefore, when you lose, you lose together. This takes the pressure off any individual child. In my experience, it has helped to make loses easier for them to process and less of a traumatic experience. Without those huge reactions, they tend to be more willing to try again, and approach with a sense of determination - instead of anger. 

As children approach the second plane of development (around age 6) they may be able to handle more non-cooperative win/lose games. I have followed the lead of my children here to determine when they are ready. We still play cooperative games in the second plane but no exclusively. 

Model Graciously Losing 

Now, there are very few children's games that I can't win every single time. But, what fun is that for my children? So I do lose on purpose when we play. The goal of this really isn't just to allow my children to win, but to model how to lose. Obviously, I'm not distraught if I lose a game of Dr. Eureka but I can still model as if I am disappointed. I talk it out as if I am. "Oh, I really wanted to win. That's disappointing. I'll try again next time." I don't stick to a specific script but try to make it sound genuine. I take deep breaths, I say "good game." All of the things I want my children to see and say next time they find that they have lost.

Grace and Courtesy

While modeling in the moment is helpful, it's not always the greatest teacher. Especially for older children who no longer have an absorbent mind, a little more direct teaching might be helpful as they learn to lose. A grace and courtesy lesson on what to say, how to say it, and some tools to use when they are disappointed can be helpful. A grace and courtesy lesson should happen at a neutral time and can be a fun game itself. 

Guide Through A Loss

Despite all of this, children can still become upset when they lose. Help to guide them through it. Don't make the experience worse by using phrases like "sore loser" or "cry baby" or some other disrespectful phrase. Instead acknowledge their feelings, comfort them, help them through the emotions. It's not teaching them to throw a fit every time they lose, but it's show them that you'll be there no matter what emotion they are feeling. And you'll keep working on handling loss better in the future. These moments are not a time for teaching, but a time of compassion and empathy. 

How do your children handle losing? How do you guide them through it?


Unknown said…
Thanks for this - I need to be better about modeling what "good" losing looks like. I also try to give G&C lessons about what good winning looks like - not being smug/etc. Just as important!
Unknown said…
What are some of your favorite games? We just bought a few for Christmas and it has been so much fun playing with my almost 4 yo and 2yo. Imperfect but fun. I definitely want to add to our game cabinet as we grow!

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