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Sore Loser? How to Help Your Child Handle Disappointment

Grace and humility are important traits to develop at a young age

sad children Baseball lost game

Losing is bound to happen — it’s just the way the world works. If your child plays competitive sports or loves family game nights, they are bound to lose sometimes. And, as a parent, it’s your job to help your child learn how to handle these disappointments calmly. It isn’t always the easiest task to take on, but it’s crucial for your child’s behavior development.

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Child psychiatrist Joseph Austerman, DO, says teaching this skill is vital to helping children manage difficulties later in life.

“It’s your responsibility as a parent to help children navigate when things aren’t going their way,” he says. “The better you teach them this as children, the better they’ll be able to do it as adults.”

Ways to help your child handle losing and disappointment

Dr. Austerman offers these tips to help your child learn to handle disappointments and losses in sports and games.

  1. Have a good offense. Discuss winning and losing with your child before they start playing. Talk about how losing is sometimes frustrating, but that winning and losing aren’t the most important things. Instead, focus on how practicing, improving skills and working with a team are more important.
  2. Listen to your child. Don’t fall into the trap of wanting to take all the anger and frustration away. Ask why they are frustrated, validate that losing is difficult and then re-frame the conversation. Rather than discussing the number of points scored, talk about how your child tried their best.
  3. Offer praise. If your child loses a game, point out things that went well. Highlight their best efforts. “Right after a loss isn’t the time for critical analyses — leave that to the coaches,” Dr. Austerman says.
  4. Avoid comparing your child to other players. Resist the urge to compare your child’s performance to another’s. “This is never a recipe for improved self-esteem or ability,” he says.
  5. Send the same message even when your child wins. It’s sometimes difficult, but even if your child wins a game, it’s a good idea to repeat the message that the most important thing is that they had fun and worked hard.
  6. Model good behavior. If your child gets frustrated at losses easily and has a tough time moving past them, you might need to examine your own behavior. Does your child see you get angry while watching sports on TV, or do you get upset in traffic? Be sure you’re modeling the behavior you want for your child. It will make it easier for them to handle frustrations later in life.

It might also be helpful to examine the behavior of your child’s coaches and teammates/friends when they experience loss, as well as the parents of those teammates and friends.

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Children are easily influenced by their coaches, friends and friends’ families. If you notice temperamental behavior coming from both children and adults who are spending time around your child, consider having meaningful (not accusatory) conversations with them about how your child is affected. If the toxicity continues, it might be best to remove your child from the team or have them spend less time with those friends.

Be patient with your child

“No matter what,” Dr. Austerman says, “Maintain patience with your child. Learning how to cope with competitive losses gracefully can take time.”

“This is a process as children grow,” he says. “Continue to praise your children for good efforts and good behaviors. It will help them learn how to handle and work through frustrating situations.”

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