GameplayingRecently a parent asked me this question:  “I was recently playing a game with my son and he got very upset when he was losing.  I even caught him cheating during the games we played. How should I handle his angry outbursts when he loses a game – should I let him win (not my preference at all, but I would love to hear your recommendation)?”

Is your child a graceful “loser” or a sore “loser?”

Here are some tips that can be helpful in case your child needs a little education/refinement in this area.

  1. Don’t let your child win every time. Learning about fairness and how to lose gracefully is a skill every child needs to learn. If your child is quite young and the game requires cognitive skills s/he hasn’t developed yet, then modify the game so you can level the playing field. Hopefully, there is a mixture of times that your child wins and loses so you can model how to be a graceful loser by smiling, shaking their hand and providing a compliment on how they played the game but also let them experience losing a game and handling it well.
  2. Definitely don’t let your child cheat.  If you catch the child cheating quit the game immediately.  You can explain that cheating is like telling a lie and/or stealing. You will lose trust in your child and once trust is broken it’s hard to earn it back. Instead of using their intelligence to come up with a devious way to win, encourage your child to use their vast intelligence to devise winning strategies for the game. An alarming number of high school students are being found cheating and you really want to nip this behavior in the bud.
  3. During a quiet time talk to your child about the importance of being a good winner AND loser.  Teach your child how to be a humble winner, too, so he doesn’t brag, shakes hands, says, “good game,” etc. If he loses, teach him how to shake hands, congratulate the winner, put on his “good sport face”  and then practice the ritual when you’re not playing games.You can also watch sports on TV and then point out how most athletes show such grace losing, even at the highest levels. Those people can be role models to your child. You could also play back some footage from John McEnroe so your child can see the difference. (Caution: There is a swear word!)
  4. Consider sharing The Olympic Creed. It reads: “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.”
  5. Set ground rules before you start playing with your child. “If you’re a good sport, I’ll play two games with you. If you show “bad sportsmanship” i.e. throw a game piece, etc., then the game is over. You can also praise her along the way if she handles it well when you do well.

Another approach is to emphasize “personal bests,” rather than winning. You can ask, “How did you play?” “Did you do the best you could?” “What’s the most important thing that you learned?” “What might you do differently next time?” and those type of questions.
Winning gracefully and losing gracefully are skills that your child needs to acquire. It just may take a little training! Hang in there!

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