Teaching your child to lose

>> Monday, 16 January 2012

We all want our child to be one of life's winners, don't we?

We encourage them to do their best, try harder, put just that little bit more effort in. Not for ourselves, oh no, of course not - perish the thought. I mean, obviously it's nice to watch little Amy / Jimmy standing on the podium to receieve their medal, but it's all about them, isn't it? Isn't it? Yes, of course it is (and for the times it isn't, well, I'll write another post), and we push our children for their own sakes, because we want them to get the best that they can out of their lives. The best results. The best opportunities. Even - ultimately - the best jobs.

Here's the thing though, and it's an old chestnut but for all that, it's true; for every winner, there has to be a loser. In fact if we're honest about it, there have to be a whole host of losers. And unless they are a prodigy of some kind, at some point in time, your child - statistically - will be one of them.

This issue is top of mind for me because at the weekend Boy #2 had his birthday party. We try to keep things as simple as possible for these events; no entertainer, just us, some other parents willing to get down and dirty with the kids (or in this case, cold and icy for the snowman building competition), hot chocolate, pizza and birthday cake. Oh, and party games.

These party games were pretty simple; musical chairs, musical statues, pass the parcel and of course, that stalwart 'calm everybody down' standby: Sleeping Lions. (I tried to call it 'dead lions', which is how I remember it from my childhood but apparently that's not on for today's little eco-warriers). These party games were fun - and they were also revealing. Whilst many of the children at the party were perfectly able to keep the whole thing in perspective and simply enjoy the fun, some previously sunny little souls, when told that they hadn't won the game, promptly burst into tears and were inconsolable.

And yes, I know that they're 6. And that they will learn. But the experience highlighted to me that at a time when the importance of competitive sport is being down-played in many schools (football matches with no recorded score, anybody?), we may be failing to equip our children with the very important life-skill of how to lose gracefully. Because surely, if we avoid all the situations where our child is potentially a non-winner, a - say it - loser, we are not helping them in the long run.

I'm not for one moment suggesting that we all become Competitive Dad (see the clip below if you have no idea what I'm talking about) and take every opportunity to get one up on our kids in the name of educating them in Real Life. I do think though that as parents we should spend some time helping our children understand that whilst winning can be important, it isn't everything.

Children need to understand that losing a game does not mean becoming a Loser in life. Once the scrabble and ludo are put away, once the Wii has powered down, and once the mud has dried on their trainers, it's over, finished. It's one moment in time. Now, on to the next adventure.

(And then, maybe, children's birthday parties will be a little less of a minefield...)

What do you think?


LittleGreenFingers 16 January 2012 at 09:34  

I come from a hideously competitive family. It has taken me years to come even close to socially acceptable behaviour in this area and I basically had to go cold turkey on board games for a while.

We need lessons on how to put on a "gracious losers face" worthy of the Oscars, as much as we need to ensure competitiveness still plays a part in schools.

Bush Mummy 16 January 2012 at 10:39  

Summed up for me perfectly in 'The Incredibles' when Mr Incredible refuses to go to his son's school ceremony to 'celebrate mediocrity'..

You win some, you lose some. That's life.

BM x

spudballoo 16 January 2012 at 11:10  

You're so right. I have blogged about this before. Bertie (6) is a terrible loser though he is improving 'a bit'. It really puts me off playing board games with him but I just have to bite my lip and do it, because he HAS to learn to lose with grace. He has cried hideously at his own parties when he loses, much to my great irritation and embarrassment. He goes to parties of friends with a threat from me.

No-one likes to lose. But we all lose, that's how life goes. It's a really important skill to learn early, to accept defeat with grace and celebrate others' good fortune or skill.

so I push on with the board games, and cling on to the board for dear life at the end if he loses to stop him flinging it across the room :-(


Writeonmum 16 January 2012 at 16:54  

Luckily, my kids haven't really had a problem with losing. I don't know why but I think it's more out of being embarrassed if they make a scene so they smile and pretend it's okay. But my brother used to be a horror when he lost! He's 47 now and thankfully laughs at his past loser tantrums. Being bad losers is something kids grow out of...I think.

nappy valley girl 16 January 2012 at 20:52  

Totally agree with you - I do think they need to know that not everybody wins (in the US, it's all about every single child getting a medal and no-one getting singled out). After all, that's life, isn't it.

I still call the game Dead Lions! It hadn't crossed my mind that it wasn't PC, now wondering if I've offended lots of American parents at LB2's party(they don't know the game).

Potty Mummy 17 January 2012 at 05:37  

LGF, I totally agree. And since you're so well qualified perhaps you could teach them?

BM, I'd forgotten that quote - spot on...

Spud, we have a similar problem with Boy #1. He IS getting better, but it's not helped by how insufferably smug his amazingly lucky younger brother is when he wins. Maybe that's just part of the job description of younger brothers, though...

WriteonMum, we can only hope, eh?

NVG, rather than being offended I imagine they stored it up for future use when the kids were getting too much. That's what they did at our party, anyway!

Working Mum 17 January 2012 at 18:48  

You've blogged a discussion we were having at work last week: some children never learn to fail, so what happens when they inevitably do? (eg fail their driving test, fail to get offers from their chosen universities, fail to achieve the required A level grades for their offers, etc). It is important to learn to cope with life's inevitable ups and downs and we are not serving our children well if we don't teach them how.

Iota 17 January 2012 at 19:11  

Totally agree. One of mine went through a phase where he was uber-competitive and HATED losing. He was that 'burst into tears' child. The phase didn't last long. Perhaps lots of them go through it. He still hates losing, but deals with it better (ie by claiming that the organiser was biased, or that a fellow player cheated - but at least doing so at home after the event, rather than through loud sobs at the time).

Beko Mums United 18 January 2012 at 17:35  

Great blog Potty Mummy! We were discussing something similar on Facebook the other day (http://www.facebook.com/bekomumsunited) - see Sunday's post on 'Sportsman(and woman)ship'. Would be keen to hear any further thoughts you might have about this.

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