It’s bound to happen. If your child plays a competitive sport or game, he or she will lose sometimes. And, as a parent, it’s your job to help your child learn how to handle these disappointments.
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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 we teach them this as children, the better they’ll be able to do it as adults.”
Help your child put losing in perspective
Dr. Austerman offers these tips to help your child learn to handle disappointments and losses in sports and games.
- Have a good offense: Discuss winning and losing with your child before he or she starts playing. Talk about how losing is sometimes frustrating, but that winning and losing aren’t the most important things. Instead, focus on how practicing and improving skills and working with a team are more important.
- Listen to your child: Don’t fall into the trap of wanting to take all the anger and frustration away. Ask why he or she is 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 his or her best.
- Offer praise: If your child loses a game, point out things that went well. Highlight his or her best efforts. Right after a loss isn’t the time for critical analyses — leave that to the coaches, Dr. Austerman says.
- 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.
- 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 he or she had fun and worked hard.
- 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 him or her to handle frustrations later in life.
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.”