4 Ways to Help a Poor Loser

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Sad boy with soccer ball isolated on white background

Everybody wants to win and I’ve found that children like to win just as much as the next guy. Have you ever played a game with one of your kids and all is well until they don’t come out on top? It doesn’t matter if it’s a game of t-ball or old maid, we’ve all seen a child’s mood turn on a dime when the score tilts in the other contestant’s favor or worse yet, they lose the game altogether. Not all kids react the same way, but I think we can all relate to the following different “poor loser” reactions. You might even notice some of your own reactions in these.

Have you ever seen any of these “poor loser” reactions?

  • The tantrummer: They light up the sky with their temper. Growls, swinging arms and legs and even charging ensues.
  • The pouter: They whine and complain and talk about why it wasn’t fair.
  • The silent type: This one insists on not talking to anyone that was “mean” by “winning them” in the game.
  • The stalking avenger: They lie In wait to lash out at the victor.
  • The refuser: They simply refuse to participate unless they can win.

I recently got a Facebook message from a TRU Mom that asked the following question in regards to her little guy. She asked, “It was my 5 year old son’s sports day yesterday and it was a disaster. He lost the first race, cried and wouldn’t join in with the rest. He was then upset for rest of the day. Any ideas for managing ‘bad losers’? Tried the whole it’s not the winning that matters pep talk!”

I can feel both the frustration and concern of this Mom for her son’s reaction to losing. What advice would you give her? (Please share your thoughts and insights in the comments). It was clear to me that there were several concerns associated with this issue.

  • First, he cried after something that was seemingly small and insignificant to his parent.
  • Second, he refused to join in the rest of the activities.
  • Third, his attitude continued all day and I sense that it was a little bit of a drag on the rest of the family, especially Mom.
  • Fourth, Mom wanted him to learn principles of true self worth and value, (winning is not what matters) and skills to improve future experiences.

The following 4 TRU principles will help us respond to a “poor sport” in positive ways that address each of the concerns above and Teach the skills and values we want them to know. These principles will continue to build our Relationship with our children and challenge us to continue to Upgrade ourselves in the process.

4 TRU Principles to help a “poor sport” become a “good sport”

1. Empathize: Help them manage their emotions. Don’t worry about telling them how to think or feel about winning or losing. Let them feel what they feel and just acknowledge it. Say something like, “I’m sorry man. It sounds like you’re really upset about losing the game. That’s tough.” Lean in and put a hand on their shoulder or give a hug if they need and want it. Help them cope with their big emotions and resolve them. There is no need to try to make everyone a winner or downplay losing. To your child, his upset is real. The best way to help a child, or anyone for that matter, resolve big, tough emotions is to understand.

[Tweet “To your child, his upset is real.”]

2. Redirect and encourage them to engage again: The objective is to help them reengage in a fun, encouraging way, not to pressure them into doing anything. If they say no, that’s okay. The point is simply to invite them calmly, gently and in a positive way.

3. Set limits and boundaries: Limit inappropriate behavior, but not the emotions. For instance, it’s not okay for him to hit others because he is angry he lost, but its fine if he wants to go for a walk by himself or cry if he needs to. Your child doesn’t have to join in if he doesn’t want, but you don’t have to let your child’s reaction ruin the day for you or the rest of your family. Continue to participate in the activities and gently invite and encourage your child to try again. Let them know that you want them to play and have a good time with you and the rest of the family.

4. Teach during the good times: Teach about winning and losing graciously. Teach about principles of healthy competition and about “getting back on the horse” so to speak. You can do this during a weekly family night or read a fun book with examples of good and bad winners and losers and talk about it. Teach good sportsmanship by playing games together that teach not to brag or gloat when you win and not to complain and make demands when you lose.

You could have a picture of a happy face with a baseball cap on and a sad face with a baseball cap on. One could be named “Good Sport” and the other “Poor Sport.” Then give them scenarios of different reactions to winning or losing a game and let your child decide whether the scenario represents “Good Sport” or “Poor Sport.”

Tell stories about when you were a kid and how you got over the bad feelings you had when you lost. Your modeling will have a huge impact in the long run. There are many fun ways to teach these values and skills at other times than when tempers are hot and the losing score is still fresh in their mind.

Remember, games are supposed to be fun. Help your child remember that and let it emanate from you. We all like to win, but help them find the value, the learning opportunities, the humility and the grace of being okay with losing when it happens as well. When we follow these TRU principles we find that there really are not “poor losers,” just hurting kids that need to be understood and guided. When this happens, we all win.

Question: How would you answer the question this mom asked?

Don’t forget to download your FREE copy of “5 Jump Starters for Powerful Family Cycles: Creating Happier and More Effective Parenting THIS Week!”

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