Learning to Lose

No one likes to lose, but even fewer people like a sore loser!  While we all want our children to experience success, it is equally important to prepare them to handle defeat… and game play provides a safe and natural arena in which to practice this important life skill!

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In a friendly game of Zingo!, for example, it can be tempting to simply let your child win every time.  This can actually do more harm than good, effectively teaching the inability to celebrate others’ success and making it more difficult down to road to cope with losing.  While I’m certainly not suggesting you play ruthlessly and crush your young opponent each time, gently competitive games provide a great opportunity to prepare your child for inevitable ups and downs in all arenas of life!

So how do we help kids deal with defeat?  In a recent article, Joy Berry, a child-development specialist and author of more than 250 children’s books, shares some dos and don’ts for turning losses into learning experiences:

  • Do let her feel disappointed. “Some parents are consumed with trying to avoid their child having any kind of disappointment, to the point of everyone on a team getting trophies or certificates so nobody feels bad,” Berry says. “It’s very noble, but disappointment prepares children for bigger disappointments later in life. You don’t want to raise a child who tears down the tents and goes home every time they’re disappointed.”
  • Don’t set your child up to fail. “Life is going to deal you enough blows,” Berry says. “We don’t need to set up failures for kids so they learn a lesson.” Choose age-appropriate activities for your child that he or she has a fair shot at winning. “Games that don’t take certain skills but are left to chance are a good way to level the playing field.”
  • Do have a post-game chat. “It’s important to say, ‘There is no way anyone wins all the time, and there are going to be some times when you lose. When you do, it’s important that you’re gracious. When you win, it’s important that you’re a gracious winner too.”
  • Don’t model sore loser-dom. “When your child beats you at a game, you can demonstrate how to be a good sport. ‘Congratulations for winning! Let’s play again!’ Tell them they did a great job and show them how to be a gracious loser.” Shake hands with, give a thumbs up to or high-five the loser
  • Do focus on the positive. “After a loss, say, ‘Great game. I really like the way you did this and this.’ Try to get them to focus on the things that did go right and emphasize the importance of doing that in every phase of life.”

Read the complete article Turn a sore loser into a good sport.

As the Education Specialist at ThinkFun, I write Parent’s Guides for our early learning games  (here’s the guide for S’Match!).  These guides help adults use games not only as fun and engaging activities, but also help them draw out learning opportunities and use games as teaching tools.  These guides share tips for supporting not only cognitive skills such as pattern recognition, word building, and number sense, but also for building critical social skills, like learning to win and lose graciously, through game play!

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An excerpt from the What's GNU? Parent's Guide

How can parents and teachers turn a defeat into an opportunity for growth and learning? Please share YOUR tips and strategies for helping children cope with losing!

7 thoughts on “Learning to Lose

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  3. Marcel Van Leeuwen

    Great article with a very positive attitude.

    What would the world look like if we can change the way some kids think and let them think positive following your do’s and don’ts will definitely help, but also we have to make sure we let the kids do the things the love and love to do with a passion.

    Happy Puzzling, Marcel

  4. Charlotte Post author

    You’re absolutely right, it’s so important to make sure children are engaged with something they’re naturally inclined and motivated to do (like playing a game!), and use that real life experience to allow them to experience the highs and lows. “Practicing” how to lose in a more manufactured setting just doesn’t teach this skill in a meaningful or transferable way, but when winning/losing happen organically in the course of a fun play experience, kids are more inclined to learn to roll with the ups and downs in order to keep playing!

  5. jefllo411

    I often tell my children that winning a game is great,however when you lose a game it’s OK because you are learning how to be a better player. So you don’t really lose at all. And besides, you still got a chance to play the game.

  6. Charlotte Post author

    What a great way to help your children see losing as a growth opportunity… they may have lost this one, but with the new game knowledge and strategies they’ve acquired they’re one step closer to victory the next time around! Thanks for sharing!

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