9 Tips on Teaching Children How to Lose Gracefully

September 22, 2016 Published by


Does this look like your child when they lose at snap?

We all had a good giggle in the Fundamentally Children offices recently when we saw this video from the Olympics. The Mongolian wrestler had lost and his coaches didn’t take the defeat well at all, stripping off all their clothes and throwing them down in rage.

While it’s a shock, and therefore quite funny, to see this behaviour in adults, it’s very common to see children having a tantrum if they lose. We’ve all seen a little one stomping off the pitch, or throwing their cards down because they have lost at a game.

In fact, for pre-schoolers, competitiveness is very natural and nothing to worry about too much when they are very young. While showing a strong desire to win, children are finding out about how rules work and how to interact with others.

As children get older, however, it’s important for them to learn how to lose gracefully, and to accept that they can’t win everything. We can’t go through life having tantrums if we don’t win.

Learning to lose helps to teach important life skills such as resilience, perseverance and ultimately, it means we won’t be lying on our tummies, punching the floor when we don’t get the job we interviewed for, or when our football team loses a match.

There are lots of things you can do to help children learn good sportsmanship:


1. Encourage Self Improvement

Invite your child to play games where they can increase the levels as they improve their skills, so that they learn to compete against themselves as well as others, and praise them when they improve on their own scores.


2. Be a Role Model

Children learn at an early age by copying adult behaviours. So ensure that if your children see you lose, be it in a game, or in a life experience, that you react in a way that is humble and gracious. It won’t hurt them to see that you are disappointed on occasion, as long as you aren’t reacting to that disappointment like the Mongolian wrestler did!


Children giving out High Fives


3. Explain Luck

An important lesson for children to learn about games and competition is the different elements that can explain a win or loss. Explain chance, skill and effort to them and how these elements are sometimes out of our control.


4. Enjoy the Game

Make sure that competitive games are not all about winning, but also about enjoying taking part. Make games and competition a fun endeavour and take the emphasis off the end result.


5. Sporting Etiquette

It’s helpful to teach children ‘sporting etiquette’, such as shaking hands with your opponents and cheering on the opposition as these traits will really help them to accept loss more easily.


6. Teach Empathy

If your child does react badly to a loss, talk to them about how that made the winner feel. Perhaps it took away their enjoyment of their win, or made them less likely to play against them again. It’s important for children to link their actions with the feelings of others around them, but this is a skill which will take some time to learn.


7. Focus on the Whole Game

Concentrate on elements that each player did well throughout the game to show the achievement of all involved. For example, ‘Well done for answering that question, it was a difficult one’, or ‘great shot’, etc. This helps to take the emphasis away from the final scoreboard a little.


8. Encourage Perseverance

If at first, you don’t succeed, try, try, try again. The oldies are the goodies, because they usually hold some truth. Motivate your child to practice, and improve and try again, rather than giving up if they lose.


9. Try your Best

Fostering an environment at home which shows that as parents, your only concern is that your child has tried their best, will help them not to feel so disappointed if they lost. If they react badly to loss, you can then ask if they tried their best. If the answer is yes, tell them you are proud of them, and explain they did all they could.

There is a growing trend among adults of letting children win all the time, but experiencing losing is an important life lesson for them. So while we wouldn’t suggest that you outrun a toddler, or pit yourself against an eight year-old at Trivial Pursuit, when it’s appropriate to, you can win a game, and help them to process their feelings afterwards in these ways.





Photo Credit:

High Fives by June Marie licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

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This post was written by Katie Roberts-Mason

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