Chicago mom: How I taught my son to be a gracious loser

At 3 1/2, my son Andy is finally at an age where he enjoys sitting down for a board game. This is a great turn of events for me personally, as my knees are starting to give out from climbing after him during games of “Let’s Pretend We Are Animals!” or “Let’s Push These Cars Around!” or “Let’s Be Pirates Climbing Through This Pirate Cave!” Finally, an activity with Andy that involves that magical yoga position called sitting. My God, how I love to sit.

The only problem is, new aspects of Andy’s personality are emerging as we play our board games and I am learning that Andy is a very sore loser. The sorest of sore losers, perhaps. My first hint at this came when he burst into tears and screamed after I opened the Hungry, Hungry Hippos box instead of letting him open it, thus winning the box opening portion of the game. My second hint was when I actually won the first round of Hungry, Hungry Hippos and he flung himself into a puddle of sobs and snot.

“Here, let’s play again,” I begged. I had not let him win that first round because letting him win hadn’t occurred to me. We were, after all, stiff competitors in a race to gobble marbles and I was taking my role of Orange Hippo very seriously. I managed to cajole Andy into another round, though, and this time I restrained myself, eating my marbles as slowly as if attempting to enjoy a small plate of tapas at an overpriced cafe as opposed to a buffet of bouncy, delicious marbles from the toy shelves of Wal-Mart.

So, of course, Andy won this round, and his grin was wide and his battle cry was loud and joyous. “I WON, MOM!” he yelped. “I AM THE BEST. YOU LOST! I WON BECAUSE I’M BETTER!”

Oh no. This wouldn’t do either. And so we played again and I decided to let that smug little jerk really have it. After I victoriously gobbled more than my fair share of marbles, Andy’s eyes immediately rimmed with red, his lips trembling and threatening to wail.

“Andy,” I said slowly, “Mommy won. What do you say when somebody else wins?”

Silence. Sniffling.

“You say ‘Congratulations,'” I pressed.

Andy stared at me and I could have sworn there was a small amount of actual hatred contained in his glare. He opened his mouth and in the tiniest, faintest, least audible show of bitter good sportsmanship I have ever heard, whispered, “Congratulations.”

“What’s that Andy? Did you say something?”

Another whisper. “Congratulations.”

I beamed. “Thanks Andy! Do you want to play again?”

Andy nodded and we played again. I alternated letting him win and winning myself as subtle ways to build his confidence and then humble him back down again. I think it’s important to teach our children that it’s nice to win but nice when somebody else wins, too. It’s like when the runner-up in a beauty pageant offers the real winner that huge, toothy smile and the I’m-so-happy-for-you embrace. It’s important to lose with grace, dignity, a whispered congratulations and the ability to perhaps throw your tantrum later, in private.

It’s also important to me that my son doesn’t think I’m a total idiot who can never win preschool games and is not even half as smart as her 3-year-old son. What kind of little boy respects a mommy that can’t win at nine card Memory? I mean, really. Now who’s up for a fight-to-the-death game of Operation?

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