My child cries when losing at games or sports. What should I do?

Parentree-editors 2009-07-27 09:04:57

Children of all ages find it hard to absorb disappointment, just like us parents and grownups. In particular, many children are very sensitive to losing at games, sports or even in minor scenarios.

Here is probably what happens. Your child is about to lose a game to you or a friend or to a sibling. Or is about lose a game of sports. It seems to you like a very minor thing. But he or she starts to cry, throw a tantrum, screams, refuses to accept defeat etc., You feel embarrassed and shocked and you are frustrated.Here are some tips on what parents can do to help children not get stressed about losing. This is a long term effort and some of these tips will take time to show results.

Be calm. Pacify the child.

First, calm the child down. Some techniques to calm the child can be found at Screaming kids and temper tantrums

Often we parents get embarrassed when the child cries and we order them to "stop it" or shout at them for crying. Don't. Sometimes, the reason the child is crying because they think they have disappointed you and think you will not be happy at them. Our first reaction must be tell them that we do not mind the fact that they lost. Tell them a few positive things about what they did. If you are stern with them, it reinforces their belief that dad or mom is unhappy at them, and they start crying more. The situation then just goes out of control. Instead a few calming words and encouraging statements can stabilise the situation, allowing you to tackle it further. 

Praise efforts, not the results

This is a mantra parents must follow always not just when kids are losing. Especially with young children who have impressionable minds, this is a very important concept. Keep praising their efforts, instead of praising the results. For example, if they are swimming, tell them about how well their hands and legs were moving rather than counting laps. When children are young, it is more important to teach them the fundamental tenet that effort and hard work are important for success. If we focus only on results, children learn that all that matters to us are results. And believe it or not, they are often trying to please us. This results in them being afraid that we will not be happy if the results are not good. So early in childhood, it is most important to praise effort rather than focusing on results. Do not worry that if you do not focus on results now, that children will ignore them later. As children mature and grow, they will learn the importance of results also.

Live to fight another day

Encourage children to calmly learn from the present and use it to focus on the future. This lesson is best done through real life examples There are many many examples of champions around us who have faced a lot of losses before they turned around their careers and became winners. One recent example is Rafael Nadal who could never win anything but the French Open. Talk to your child about how he persevered and has now won other trophies like Wimbledon, US Open etc.,  and is World #1. He kept practising and practising, and working on all aspects of his game till he mastered the other tournaments also. 

Another great example of calmness under pressure, if our own Captain Cool, MS Dhoni. He seems to have react very calmly whether winning or losing and appears to focus on how to improve the situation rather than bemoan how bad things were. There are many other good role models out there, similar to these two.

And of course, one of the great examples is India's own fight for freedom. It took many, many decades for leaders like Gandhi, Nehru, Patel and many more to achieve independence for India. They had to go to jail many times but they never gave up till they achieved what was important. 

Focus on your behaviour - how do you handle disappointment?

Parents are the first role model for children. When your favourite team is losing at sports (like some old Indian teams in cricket), do you blow off steam and start yelling at the players and the TV or do you make disparaging remarks about them? Watch out, your children are learning from you. 

Do you throw a fit if the food is not hot or if the vegetables are not the way you like them? Watch our, your children are learning from you.

Each of these is a disappointment that you face and your reactions also teach your children to react. So whenever possible, react calmly and coolly and focus on how to fix the situation, if you can.

Are you letting your child win all the time?

Often we play with our children. Do you let them win all the time? You may think that this boosts their self-confidence but it may also be teaching them that winning is easy. See more tips on what to do when playing competitively with your children - Should we "let them win all the time"?

Arrange more playdates with a few close friends

Playing with other friends will teach your child give and take. There will be situations where they have to negotiate on what to play and they won't always get their way. By setting this up as a playdate, you can have a close eye on the situation since it will be a small setting and can intervene if things start getting out of hand. See "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" - 7 big benefits of play



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