Dr. Sileo: My child HATES to lose at anything. She becomes so upset that it’s difficult to talk to her about it. It’s becoming a serious problem. What can I do to help her tolerate some loss without being so tearful, angry and worked up?
It is very difficult for some kids to lose. It’s understandable for youngsters to feel sad, disappointed and angry when they don’t win at something. Kids, and even some adults, really struggle with losing. The issue of sportsmanship is what prompted me to write my children’s book, Sally Sore Loser: A Story About Winning and Losing, to teach kids about how to be a good sport.
Over the Top
It sounds like your daughter’s anger is over the top, and it seems like losing really causes her significant emotional distress. You may want to avoid talking with your daughter when she is so visibly upset. She is not going to hear or comprehend anything you are saying to her.
Tell her, “When you can calm down, then we can sit and talk about what’s making you so upset.” Give her some space in a safe area to express her feelings. When speaking calmly with her later, be sure to show her empathy by letting her know that it’s difficult to lose at things.
A “Before” Talk
You may want to sit with your child and talk with her before an event, game or any other competitive activity. Talk about the rules of being a good sport and to remember that she is doing the activity to have fun. Remind her that sore losers often lose friends, also. Tell her that, even when you lose at something, you win because you get to keep friends.
Be a Role Model
As a parent, remember you are the role model, so it is important to model good sportsmanship as well. Encourage and practice being a good sport by playing board or other types of games where you practice congratulating the winner or saying, “Good game.”
Show your child how to take deep breaths and engage in self-talk like “Calm down,” “I had fun,” or “It’s only a game” when she feels anger surfacing. If she physically acts out toward others, herself or property, you should set limits and boundaries around her acting-out and impose consequences for that behavior quickly.
Look for opportunities in the media to point out good and bad sportsmanship and discuss these incidents with your daughter. If things worsen as your daughter continues to struggle, it may be time to seek the help of a licensed mental health professional to help her regulate her feelings and develop other coping skills. ###