How to talk to about: Being a sore loser

If you’d love to have a child who’s gracious in defeat, then they need some experience in losing. A sadistic idea that we don’t recommend is that you put them in situations where they are guaranteed to lose. You could challenge them to a ‘who’s the oldest’ competition. Then when they inevitably lose, it gives you the perfect opportunity to debrief their feelings.

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This is important because we all want our children to become the type of people that others want to be around. There are a whole lot of things that threaten our kids ability to maintain their friendships. If your child swears too much while ordering at Subway, or if they have a bad habit of picking other people’s noses, or if they refuse to ever change their underwear, then that will probably affect their ability to maintain friends. However a far more common issue is how well they cope with winning or how they cope with losing.

Competition is a great thing. Winning feels awesome. It’s the best! You are measurably superior. Losing on the other hand? Not so nice. It feels a lot more losery, which is unpleasant. So how do you talk to your child about winning well and losing well?

How much value do you place on winning?

This is the first thing to think about. Some people love competing. In fact, they’ll turn pretty much anything into a competition. “I bet I can cook toast faster than you.” “I bet I can yell louder than you! Ready? Go!” “How long do you reckon I can hold my finger in this candle flame for?”

Some people actually get energy from competing. They love it – it’s what motivates them to work hard and practice and achieve great things. Other people don’t really like competing. They like everyone being included and having fun. For some people it’s fun to win, for other people it’s fun to play, and that’s why learning how to win well and lose well is so important.

Do you know how competitive your child is?

Your child knows if you love winning or if you love participating, but do you know what your child really enjoys? If we’re not careful as parents, we can project our preferences on to our kids. Just because you love competing doesn’t mean your kid will. Just because you don’t love competing doesn’t mean that your kid won’t.

Here are some questions you could ask your child –

  • Do you prefer to compete to win, or compete to have fun?
  • Is it more fun to be involved or more fun to be the best?
  • What games do you love competing at?
  • What games do you love just participating in?

Whether they love competing or not, your kid would have seen people win well and win badly. Ask them – what does a good winner look like? This is one of those great moments where you can actually create a sense of belonging and a sense of a family culture by making a family motto with your kids. Finish these sentences with each other –

When we win in our family, we…

Bad ideas

  • Laugh at all the losers
  • Remind everyone exactly how we won
  • Pay the referee the money we promised them
  • Point out that you had the bad controller and you still won
  • Get right up in the loser’s face and do a victory dance from Fortnite

Good ideas

  • Shake hands with the vanquished
  • Compliment them on how well they played
  • Keep in mind the feelings of those we defeated
  • Honour the opposition by being genuinely happy about the victory
  • Send in the medics to help the wounded soldiers of the other team

What does being a good loser look like?

No one likes losing. But when you do, it’s another opportunity to create a sense of belonging and a sense of a family culture by making a family motto with your kids. Finish these sentences with each other –

When we lose in our family we…

Bad ideas

  • Make excuses
  • We blame the referee
  • Talk about how the game is dumb
  • Accuse the opposition of cheating
  • Ask to keep playing until we win and then stop
  • Point out that it’s a game of luck, not a game of skill
  • Sneak sandpaper onto the field and rough up the cricket ball to give us an unfair advantage
  • Rage quit (could include – board-flipping, controller throwing, or ripping out the power cord to the TV)

Good ideas

  • Shake hands with the winners
  • Compliment them on how well they played
  • Keep in mind the feelings of those who won
  • Honour the opposition by being genuinely happy for their victory
  • Send in the medics to help the wounded soldiers of your own team

What does a good loser’s speech sound like?

As New Zealanders we don’t have a lot of role models of how to lose well because we’re a bunch of over-achieving competitors who usually win and when we lose we make excuses like, “Well, we’re a pretty small country”.

If you want to help your children learn how to lose well, watch the post-match interviews of the Australian rugby team. Firstly, because they get a lot of practice at losing. Secondly, because they say things like, “We did our best against the best team in the world. I feel like we gave ourselves a great chance but in the end, they were just too good on the day. We gave it everything and I’m really proud of our team today.” Now that’s a good loser’s speech.

What’s really the worst thing about losing?

To help have this conversation ask your child, ask them, “What’s the worst thing about losing?” Usually behind all the answers, you’ll find that they feel disappointed and that feeling sucks. What they need is for you to reassure them in that moment – while disappointment feels unpleasant, you can’t always win. But you can always try and do better next time, and sometimes that’s all that you can actually control.

Attend a Toolbox parenting course

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