4 Ways to Help A Sore Loser
We’ve all had that friend. The one who bellyaches about how poorly he’s doing in a game. In adults, this behavior can be amusing, and even if it’s not, we can choose to exclude a sore loser from our gaming circle.
But what about our kids? Learning to put up with disappointment is part of growing up. Emotional self-regulation, especially in the midst of frustration, is an incredibly important skill to learn. It’s also a hard skill to consistently apply, as we can see in the adult who wants to flip the table when he’s losing badly.
Behaving with grace makes any game or activity more enjoyable for everyone involved. So how can we help kids to learn this skill?
1. Talk about your expectations
Sometimes, a kid just isn’t aware that their behavior has been inappropriate. (“who, me?”) Talk through what we expect when playing a game: taking turns, using kind words, and having fun. Keep reinforcing this every time you play. “When I get angry or sulk, it keeps me from having fun, and it makes the game less fun for everyone else, too.”
Come up with some strategies before the game starts. “This is a hard game, and the last time you played it, you got really upset. Are you sure you want to play? What can you do if you start falling behind?”
Talking through strategy may help for a sore-loser attitude in the middle of the game. “I see you didn’t get the card you wanted this turn. Maybe you’ll get it next turn! In the meantime, what can you do with the cards you have?”
2. Lower the stakes
Sometimes, winning is the only thing that matters to a child. We can try to make winning less important, especially if we make losing less painful.
You could have everyone do something fun and non-competitive after a game is over (dance party, anyone?).
At Family Gamers central, we make the winner clean up the game, and the loser gets to pick the next game. One caveat: watch for a smart kid who learns to game the system. For a while, we had a child who would play well, then throw the game at the last minute to avoid the “penalty” of cleaning up.
3. Mix it up
If losing has become too overwhelming for your child, dial back the inequity of the games. Try cooperative games, so everyone is losing or winning together. Use very short games with low stakes, even if they are “too easy”, to practice losing gracefully.
You might encourage a child who is very upset to take a time-out. Not a punishment, just time to gather their thoughts, calm down, and figure out how to do better next time.
As the saying goes, “Practice makes perfect.” Keep playing easier, low-stakes games together. Continue to model good behavior and talk about strategy. Be on the lookout for improvement, no matter how incremental, and reward it.
“I noticed you kept your temper, even when you got cards you didn’t like. Great job! Do you want to play again?”
We’ve talked about this topic before on the podcast: Episode 30 – Winning
If you are a sore loser and want to set a better example for your children: The Importance of Being a Good Loser and How to be One at Art of Boardgaming
Outside of playing games: How can we help kids with self-regulation? at ChildMind.org