The question: My child can’t handle losing. I’ve noticed that when she’s playing games with others, if she doesn’t win the game, she gets all sulky and moody. How can I teach her that losing is part of life?
The answer: Losing is indeed part of life and for that reason a child should learn that lesson early – ideally by the time she starts school. It has been found that sore losers have more trouble than other children, as they get older, when it comes to making and sustaining friendships.
Some children are born with a temperament or personality where they need to always be in charge, which may mean winning. Toddlers are normally self-centered and at this age it may in fact be normal to insist on always getting one’s way. However, as the child gets older, it becomes less appropriate to insist on being the winner 100 per cent of the time.
An innate temperament that is easily frustrated can be managed over time in such a way that the child learns to lose graciously. It takes much patience and begins with the parent.
The way parents handle their own frustrations serve as a role model. Overly involved parents can make matters worse; setting unrealistic expectations for your child may contribute to the problem and focusing more on the outcome than the effort may also add fuel to the fire.
Start by acknowledging her feelings. It is fine to get frustrated, but at the same time, losing does not mean that she is an inferior person. Praise her for her effort. Point out that she is constantly improving and that even the best athletes have off days. Use sport events on TV as a tool where she can see that even first ranked teams or players do not always win.
Unfortunately, we live in a culture where winning and being highly competitive have become the norm. Some coaches are guilty of focusing on winning more than effort or simple participation. Competition is good, but when winning becomes a superior way of saying, “We are better than those other bunch of losers,” then it may frustrate a child when she loses.
Send pediatrician Peter Nieman your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org. He will answer select questions, which could appear in The Globe and Mail and/or on The Globe and Mail web site. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.
Read more Q&As from Dr. Peter Nieman.
Click here to see Q&As from all of our health experts.
The content provided in The Globe and Mail's Ask a Health Expert centre is for information purposes only and is neither intended to be relied upon nor to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.