It can be tough to see that defeated look on your child's face
as you drive home from a losing game.
You watched them battle it out, giving their all and still
coming up short. Some kids cry. Some kids scream. Some kids sulk.
What you may not realize is that how they react has more to do with
you than you think.
"I think a lot of children aren't sure of how to react," says
Don August, head volleyball coach for boys and girls at Oak
Park/River Forest High School.
Of course there will be disappointment, he says, but that
doesn't mean kids should feel free to rant and rave. "Losses are
hard and you feel bad about them. You feel bad about them and then
you move on."
Getting kids to talk about how they feel about losing can be a
valuable tool they can use through life, says Dr. Sharon L. Hirsch,
section chief and assistant professor for child and adolescent
psychiatry at the University of Chicago. Start the conversation by
sharing a loss of your own and how it felt.
"When you lose, you're upset. But you want them to be able to
talk about being sad while at the same time being proud of
themselves for doing their best. If they cover up their feelings it
leaves them nowhere to go."
Hirsch, who has three boys ages 5, 7 and 10, says it's also
important for parents to get to know their kids' coaches. As
children get older and start to separate themselves from their
parents, they put more weight on the opinions of other adults, she
says. A coach with poor sportsmanship can give your child the wrong
idea about the right way to lose.
Kids feel under a lot of pressure to win, says Ian McCarthy,
teacher and head soccer coach at Whitney M. Young High School and
father of two.
While younger kids often have the ability to brush off a loss
much easier, McCarthy says impressing peers becomes the overriding
goal for older kids and losses can be devastating to social
ranking. Pressure is often added because scores are listed in the
Then also add in parents' own pressure to win and losses can
"I think parents are really concerned with winning. I guarantee
a lot of parents didn't play sports that deep into their lives so
maybe they are trying to live vicariously through their children,"
One of the most important things you can do as a parent is learn
to switch your own focus. Instead of being concerned with the
outcome, stress being proud of your child for a job well done. If
you've planned a post-game trip for ice cream, be sure to make that
trip even if your child's team loses.
Blame is another thing to teach your child to avoid. Children
who have suffered a loss may want to blame a fellow teammate, the
other team or the referee. While it might seem that others are to
blame, this teaches bad habits. Get them to focus on their own
contributions in the game, August says.
If your child seems to be overreacting to losing, it might be
especially important to take some time for a one-on-one
conversation. There might be a deeper issue at play.
"Be a good parent," Hirsch says. "Talk to your kids and find out
what's going on."
No matter how you decide to teach your kids good sportsmanship,
one important factor remains the same: prepare them for winning and
losing before they even go to practice.
"With my own kids it's pretty important for me to expose them to
sportsmanship with losing and to let them know that it's a part of
the process and that they have many more games ahead," McCarthy
says. "They're gonna win some and lose some and it's something
Christy Bonstell spends most of her time making people laugh. The best laughs are the ones she gets from her son, Keagan.
See more of Christy's stories here.
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