Parenting Tips - Teaching kids to lose gracefully

We've all seen them - Kids who are bad losers or parents who bad mouth coaches or teachers, after a child's defeat. But experts say teaching your children how to deal when things don't go their way is one of the most important things you can do to prepare them for life.

Ray Heilmann is the Principal at Quincy Notre Dame and has been a coach for many years.

He said, I think the best way is to be a good listener. But by being a good listener, try to get to some sort of objective status. If your child is very emotionally upset, depressed or crying, don't go into that realm. Invite your child to talk with you about the circumstance and then lend some objectivity to it. What do you think you should do about this? Have you tried this? If it's an athletic thing, have you talked with your coach? What have you shared with others? Remember, they TMre venting at that time. Listen intently and don't judge. Just listen, then try to be the objective facilitator to help your child learn a life lesson and to move forward.

Heilmann says after protecting your child throughout his or her life, it's hard to not be emotionally involved when you watch your child fail or become hurt by a loss. But it turns out, teaching your child how to lose gracefully will prepare them for the realities of the future.

Why is it important for a parent to not become emotionally involved?

Heilmann said, Because we are the adults and what we need to do is teach our children that there are appropriate ways to go about something in life and there are appropriate ways to gain information about our particular status. When we become emotionally involved we are not elevating ourselves as the adult, the role model and the listener, counselor or guide. We are right with the teen and we've emotionally become completely attached and symbiotic with our child. Therefore they look at us as a buddy or friend not a parent. So when you give up that role, that's when things become very poor and the behavior is not necessarily the best.

The key is to start early and stay consistent. Find teachable moments each day. If your child is mad at not winning a game, turn the situation around. Explain that other kids don't enjoy playing with bad losers and ask them what it would be like if another child behaved in the same way.

What do you say if they are six and they want to win?

Heilmann said, Make it a teachable moment. If you're playing a game and your child (no matter what age), doesn't want to lose or starts crying or gets upset, you make it a teachable moment. Talk to them about how it appears to other people. Explain that other children will not want to play because you're not playing by the rules or you do not lose gracefully. So turn it around and say what if you were playing someone and you won but they were upset with you and wouldn't talk to you. Chances are they will think about it and tell you he or she wouldn TMt like it.

Clarify what losing or a failure is. Many times in our society we focus on the trophies and the victory. Teach your child that you value the process of bettering yourself and the hard work that's necessary to meet a challenge...not necessarily the win.

Praise the right things. Don't focus on the grade or the win, but instead on the work and effort put forward and what he or she learned in the process.

And don't sugarcoat the truth. Everyone fails, and you can't win all the time. Deal with it constructively. Acknowledge the loss and ask them what they think they could do differently next time. Children must learn to confront their deficiencies head on to make themselves work harder to meet challenges. When you do talk about the failure, or loss, make sure they know you still love them and that the most important thing is that they do their best regardless of the outcome.

Heilmann said, There's a lot of pressure on them and so if they're participating in music or going for a student council position or athletics or valedictorian or a scholarship, if they don't get that we don't want to necessarily emphasize that they did not win that scholarship or role or whatever it may be. We need to emphasize the fact that they worked hard to try too achieve a goal, because in society, business and in life you may do everything possible and not get the contract, you may not get the reward as top salesman, but does that means your efforts are worthless? No, it just means that that particular goal you didn't reach it, but all the good things that go with the search for the goal and the attainment of it is worth a lot.

Most importantly don't blame someone else for a defeat. To blame a coach or a referee for example, will develop a sense of entitlement in your children. They'll come to believe all their failures are due to others and will learn not to take responsibility for their own actions and expect everything to be handed to them. And that's not how the world works.

What could happen if you don't teach your children these life skills?

Heilmann said, Young children need to learn that they can't win every game, that they TMre not going to win every race. In kindergarten and first grade sometimes it TMs very competitive and they feel that if they don't win they're not important. Because they don't win doesn't mean they're not important. It's important to teach lessons early in life and follow through because life sometimes can be very challenging and difficult. If we don't, your child may feel a sense of entitlement. He or she might say, If I am going after this role or scholarship, if I don't get it I am upset and it TMs someone else's fault. I am entitled to that. When you get that sense of entitlement, you'll have reality hit you in the face very quickly.