I love to compete. I love card games and sports. I’m an athlete and enjoy the challenge of finding my place on a team and working toward a goal.
When I became a parent, I longed for the day when my daughter would take the court or field. I couldn’t wait for her to learn the lessons of sportsmanship, resiliency, and dignity through sports and competitions. Then I played Candy Land with her when she was 3 and decided I would never play anything with her again if it involved winning and losing. I chalked up her outburst to the fact that she was a toddler and didn’t get her way. I tried to explain that spending time together and having fun were more important than who won the game.
She wasn’t having it. Fast-forward six years and she still isn’t having it. My oldest child is a sore loser, and it drives me crazy.
I understand the disappointment of losing. Compared to being celebrated and feeling like you are the best — or at least better than your opponents — losing can be a giant kick to the ego. However, I have zero patience for pouting, tantrums, cheating, and skirting responsibility. My daughter is capable of performing all of these behaviors in the span of minutes when she realizes she is losing or about to lose a card or board game.
Did you know Monopoly Junior is awesome until you have to pay someone rent, and then it’s the worst game on the planet and everyone is dumb? I bet you didn’t know it’s my fault that I didn’t teach my daughter how to play checkers “the right way.” I know you didn’t know I was capable of making her car in Mario Kart “not win.”
She gives up too easily when certain sports skills don’t come easily to her, but we have worked through some of that, and thankfully peer pressure from teammates keeps her tantrums in check — mostly. What I had really hoped for as she got older was that my daughter would stop her ridiculously obnoxious and buzzkill behavior when playing games at home.
I keep trying, though, because I am confident, or maybe naive, that she will learn how to be a good sport. I don’t believe in letting her win, but I will give her tips on strategy and show her moves she may not see so that she can learn the skills necessary to help her win. I explain chance and that sometimes skill isn’t necessary; it’s literally the luck of the draw at times, and no amount of trying will help. Winning and losing is not a reflection of being good or bad, talented, or incompetent.
After she warped the cards on the Sorry! board with her tears, we made it a rule that crappy attitudes and outbursts meant she was done playing. She didn’t have to like the circumstances, but she wasn’t allowed to ruin anyone else’s experience.
I worried I was being too harsh, but according to Andrea Nair, a psychotherapist and parenting educator from Ontario, I am on the right track. In an article for Today’s Parent, she stresses the importance of children practicing losing while caregivers help them manage their emotions. For those kiddos with big feelings, extra work needs to be done by the adults to establish expectations, model fair play, and praise kids when they handle both winning and losing well.
Joseph Austerman, DO, a child psychiatrist at the Cleveland Clinic, suggests that it is not a caregiver’s job to take away a child’s frustration or anger but to validate their feelings and redirect the conversation to focus on the positive aspects of the game. He also adds that we should react to a child’s win the same way we would a loss. The emphasis should always be on having fun, working hard, and trying your best.
I am not confident my daughter will learn these lessons without kicking and screaming. I will keep at it while the stakes are low, because I know she will face much bigger disappointments and losses in life as she gets older. I want her to know how to navigate losing with humility. It would also be nice to play a game with her without being yelled at; her friends and siblings will appreciate it too, as will future friends, coworkers, and eventual partners. No one wants to deal with an overly aggressive and competitive sore loser.
Every kid is different, and at the end of the day, we may just need to be patient and listen to their whingeing while trying to teach them that we win some and we lose some. Honestly, I’m the one who feels like the loser here, but if I can send my daughter into the world with some resiliency, it will have been worth it.