Losing is inevitable in life. It's vital to teach kids how to cope with losing early in life so they can deal with it in the future. In sports, losing is not only expected but necessary for success. It's better to lose and learn how to handle defeat than win and be unprepared for it when it happens.

It's difficult for children to learn how to manage their feelings regarding losing. At a young age, we believe we are the best at everything. Sometime's, the same mindset transitions into adulthood with us. Often those we see flipping a gameboard when they don't win in Monopoly or getting into an altercation with a ref over a bad call are just people who were never taught how to gracefully lose or accept a loss. 

The argument that kids should only play "winning" teams is ridiculous. Kids shouldn't play any team they can beat without trying their hardest because they will never grow as a player or person by taking the easy way out of everything. You shouldn't let them win either because that adds to the "I need to win everything' mindset. When you let your child win, you're only sheltering them from disappointment. They need to be equipped to deal with losses on a larger scale that will be a part of their future.

Losing builds character and gives you a better appreciation for winning. If a child isn't taught valuable skills when handling a loss, they could wind up as an adult having temper tantrums every time they fail or don't get a win.

Teach them as soon as possible.

You know your children and can assess when they are ready to start learning lessons on losing. Some children are ready to learn as young as two. Just be sure you don't rush them. You might feel overwhelmed trying to figure out what to teach them, so just focus on teaching them how to be a good sport. If they are learning a new sport, teach them not to get upset if in the learning process. Teach them not to get discouraged if they can't dunk a basketball or hit a home run on the first try. Don't let them get pity wins if you're playing a family game. Start with low-stakes games where you all take turns winning and losing. This way, winning or losing isn't seen as a big deal.

Games like Go-fish, Candyland, Twister, or eve nI-spy are good games to use early on when teaching your children lessons. Teaching them in a supportive environment will help them understand that the outcome of the activity is part of the overall fun regardless of who wins or loses. The experience itself is much bigger.

Encourage good sportsmanship.

Kids can start playing team sports as early as three years old. When you teach them about being a good sport, you should include being a supportive teammate. Please encourage them to be a good sport by cheering for their teammates and helping them. If they win, make sure they acknowledge their opponents. If they lose, let them know that it's okay to feel disappointed. Don't allow them to use losing as an excuse to act poorly. When they do well, make sure they give credit to their teammates for their success. This will help your child develop a sense of teamwork and sportsmanship.

Being a good sport is vital in team sports. It makes the competitive game more enjoyable for everyone involved. Good sportsmanship teaches one to be graceful in winning and losing. Bad sportsmanship creates a negative environment and will suck the fun out of everything. Be sure to include the following principles when teaching good sportsmanship lessons. 

  • If you lose, don't make any excuses.
  • Don't argue or use foul language or have temper tantrums.
  • Even if it means losing, follow the rules because cheating to win isn't winning.
  • Respect your competitors even in defeat; acknowledge their skills.
  • Always end with a handshake regardless of a win or loss.

While it's easy for everyone to get caught up in the winning aspect of a game, there's more to be gained from the overall experience. Children will learn from the principles instilled that will stay with them for the rest of their lives. 

Focus on the effort. 

When we lose in a competitive game that requires a team performance, it can feel like we let everyone down and not just ourselves. Praise your child for how much effort they are putting into preparing for the competition. Tell them you are proud of how hard they worked to get there. Focusing on the effort instead allows your child to see that they can practice, perform, learn, and grow from their experience. At a loss, take the opportunity to reflect and grow. 

Ask them questions like "what do you think went well?' or "what did you learn from this that can help you improve next time?." These are good for physical sports and games that require a specific skill set. When your child has taken a loss in a competition based on a belief or popularity, try applying positive reframing. Ask a question like, "did you learn anything from your opponent?"."

No one likes to lose, but it's a part of life. Helping our children learn how to manage their feelings now will help them lose with dignity as adults, which is something to be proud of. It's okay to validate their feelings along the way as well. While it's okay to feel sad after a loss, it's not okay to be rude or angry. 

Being a parent is never easy, but guiding your children through the losing parts of life shouldn't be taken lightly. Children can develop disorders like depression and anxiety when their negative emotions get amplified. These core principles are crucial to their overall health. Next time you have a family game night or head to a soccer game, keep that in mind. 

After all, the secret to being great in life isn't about winning; it's about learning how to lose.

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