If your child stomps off the field angrily after losing a game or bursts into tears with shouts of "it's not fair!" after losing a family board game, you've likely got a sore loser on your hands. Sore loser behavior is not unusual in toddlers and preschoolers, who lack the ability to handle their frustrations and intense emotions, according to clinical psychologist Dr. Lawrence Kutner. However, for school-aged children, sore loser behavior will only get worse if you don't get a hold of the situation immediately. Turn your child into a good sport by teaching him how to handle emotions appropriately and role modeling good sportsmanship behavior.
1. Managing Disappointment
When your child loses a game, whether it's a soccer game or a board game at home, don't tell her "it's just a game," when she gets upset. It is important to acknowledge your child's disappointment or sadness, according to Joy Berry, child psychologist and children's book author. Berry stresses that allowing your child to feel disappointment every now and then will prepare her for the bigger disappointments that will come later in life. You need to teach her how to appropriately manage those feelings, however. Emphasize the importance of being gracious when she loses, even if she is upset. Child psychologist Dr. Ruth A. Peters suggests offering your child appropriate outlets to express frustration in privacy, like taking time to herself in her room, talking a walk or punching her pillow. It is also important to emphasize what is inappropriate, such as slamming doors, throwing temper tantrums, yelling or physically hurting others.
2. Teaching Rebounding Skills
Teach your child how to move past her disappointment at losing by helping her focus on the positive and the things that she did well, according to Berry. Emphasize her effort. If her team loses a game, point out the goal she scored or how her passing skills have improved. Offer a positive distraction from the loss with a non-competitive activity she enjoys, such as watching a movie or baking cookies. For family games, make losing fun by incorporating a silly task that the loser has to do, like coming up with a joke that will make everyone laugh or getting tickled by the winner. You should also encourage your child to work on practicing and improving her skills so she can perform better, as recommended by NYU child and adolescent psychiatry professor Anita Gurian.
3. Reading about Good Sportsmanship
Read age-appropriate books to your child about the importance of not being a sore loser and being a good sport. For children ages 4 and older, "Sally Sore Loser," by Frank J. Sileo, follows a competitive little girl who learns to stop being a sore loser and focus on having fun. Another book for that age group is "Being a Bad Sport," by Joy Berry, which uses age-appropriate language to guide children on how to win and lose graciously and appropriate coping strategies. For kids ages 8 and older, the book "Good Sports: Winning, Losing, and Everything In Between" by Therese Kauchak provides an in-depth look at what it means to be on a team, how to be a good sport and handling pressure from coaches and parents. You can also talk about famous athletes your child might admire and show examples of their good sportsmanship from old sports video clips.
4. Role Model Good Sportsmanship
Your behavior has a major influence on how your child reacts to losing. Role model good behavior by refraining from arguing with coaches or referees if you are unhappy with a call. Let your child see you cheering for good plays on both teams. If you are a big sports fan, resist the urge to yell at the TV screen when your favorite football team loses. No matter how you are feeling, bite your tongue and wait to vent your frustrations privately. If you are playing board games at home, let your child see you congratulate others when they win a game, saying things like "Congratulations, you did a great job!" If you win, congratulate the other players with words like "Good effort," and "you played really well!" Lead by example by working on a skill you want to improve that can help you do better in a competition or game.