Nobody loves losing. But learning to lose well is one of the benefits of playing board games. Here are some ways to help your child along this journey.
Let’s be honest: we all like to win when we play board games. And I think we’d all admit that playing games becomes…well, a little less fun…if we feel like we’re always losing. But as parents, we also know that playing games together provides opportunities to help our kids learn how to lose gracefully. They won’t always win in life. Nobody will. So giving our kids chances to lose — in an environment where they are loved no matter what — is important in helping them learn to face challenges and disappointments.
Still, it can be hard to watch. Some kids get incredibly sad when they lose. Some have a perfectionist streak and start beating themselves up when they can’t pull off a victory. Others get angry when they are bested, even to the point of throwing a fit. And while a toddler throwing a toddler-sized tantrum can be a tiny bit cute, nobody wants to see a grown-up throwing a grown-up-sized tantrum. So somewhere along the line, it becomes important to learn how to lose with grace.
How can we help our kids go from sore loser to gracious loser, at least most of the time? Here are some ideas.
Model good sportsmanship
Whether you win or lose a game, it’s important for you — the parent — to model good sportsmanship for your child.
If you lose: Be sure to congratulate the winner. Smile and talk about how much you enjoyed playing the game together. Compliment the winner on their strategy. Be willing to play again, even right away.
If you win: Thank your child for playing with you. Ask them what they’d like to play next. Compliment them on not giving up, and on giving the game their best effort.
Establish family rules
In our house, we always congratulate the winner and say, “Good game” when we wrap up a game session. A hand-shake or high-five is common as well. It’s true that we might not always feel like saying, “Good game,” but having this guideline as a rule and a tradition has helped our kids to learn to respond first with grace and respect, even if they are feeling disappointed or frustrated.
Set expectations, even when you’re not in the middle of a game
Outside of game sessions, look for opportunities to talk about the fact that no one wins all the time. Talk about why someone might lose a game — bad luck with dice rolls, being tired or having a bad day, playing against a very worthy opponent, playing a new game and still figuring out their strategy. These can all contribute to a loss, and they’re all okay. Remind kids that they can still have fun, even if they lose.
Validate your child’s feelings
While it’s important to learn how to respond to others in a gracious and respectful manner, that doesn’t mean feelings need to be ignored or eliminated. Let your child know that it is okay to feel frustrated, sad, disappointed, or even embarrassed about losing a game. Share with them how you feel when you lose, and confirm that these feelings are normal. We all have them. The key to good sportsmanship is knowing what to do with those feelings.
Play co-op or team games
Co-op games — games where everyone is playing together against the game — are often a great idea if your child is struggling with being a sore loser. In co-op games, your child can’t lose to you or to a sibling, and at the end of the game, everyone is in the same boat: Either everyone loses or everyone wins. Not only does this eliminate some self-imposed pressure your child may feel to compete well against family members, but it also allows you to model appropriate behavior when everyone is soundly beaten by a tough game.
Team games perform a similar role in keeping your child from feeling like they are “the worst,” even when they lose. Being on a team with others gives a sense of camaraderie, and being “in this together.”
Keep the playing the fun part
It’s easy to say, “Sure, winning can be fun, but the best part is just playing together.” But kids won’t always feel like that’s the truth. However, there are things you can do to make the playing part even more fun, regardless of wins and losses.
For example, you can make family game nights fun in more ways than one. We like to order our favorite pizza and make brownies or cookies for our game nights. Even losing isn’t so bad if we know we’ll get pizza and brownies that night!
Another idea is to create a system where kids earn points sheerly for the number of games they play, or for learning different games, or for teaching games to a sibling. Points can then be spent on special prizes, activities, or…more games! The point is, reward the playing, not just the winning.
Allow the game’s loser to choose the next game, or, if everyone agrees, set up a handicap system to give the loser a leg-up next time the game is played.
The key is to establish a family culture where everyone truly values the time together playing over simply winning.
Play more often…or less often
Playing lots and lots of games together tends to take the pressure off of any one particular game or game session. As kids see that everyone wins sometimes and loses sometimes, they will tend to relax a bit, knowing that even if today is just not their day, tomorrow might well be better.
Playing a wide variety of games can be helpful as well. Games heavy in luck can level the playing field a bit after a primarily strategic game. Some dexterity games seem to favor players with little fingers, leaving grown-ups on the losing end more often than not. And learning a new and exciting game can help fade the memory of a recent loss.
But sometimes…it’s time for a break. If your child is struggling game after game, do something different for a while. Give everyone a chance to recharge and reset. The games will still be there when you’re ready to come back.
Give it time
I believe that most kids will go through a phase when they truly struggle to lose graciously. That’s okay. It’s part of the developmental process, and it’s important for parents to be sensitive to their child’s learning and growing. Remember, while we are trying to teach them to lose graciously, we need to also treat them with grace every step of the way. So give hugs generously, play their favorite game as often as they’d like, and remember that you’ve had a lot more time to learn how to deal with disappointment. They’ll get there, too.
Do you have any other suggestions for helping kids to become more gracious losers? I’d love to hear about them in the comments!