Everybody wants to be a winner. Jumping up and down, yelling, clapping hands are all gestures that we do when someone wins or does well. Rewarding success with trophies, money, and gifts are just some ways society celebrates a winner. It’s very normal that most parents want their children to win and be successful.
What is not normal is for children to be pushed in to believing that winning is the only thing that matters and that failure, somehow, is a weakness. Accepting failure is not a weakness. It’s easy to teach and model for a child how to win. However, not everybody can win – there will always be a loser. Teaching your child how to lose is an important lesson that will stay with them the rest of their lives.
It’s safe to say that no one wants to lose. It’s safe to say that most parents have a tough time watching their child lose or suffer defeat. What are some things a parent can do to teach a child this important lesson of life – handling defeat? Laying the groundwork beforehand is important. Here are some things to consider:
Whatever your child’s interest (sports, music, academics) make sure you provide people who can give adequate training for your child. Providing resources from people other than yourself is important so your child can maintain some autonomy in what they are doing. Having someone else teach your child takes you “out of the middle,” so to speak, so that if your child does not do well, then you are there to “catch them” when they fall. It is easier for a child to hear and absorb constructive feedback if it is coming from someone other than his or her parent.
Assure your child that they are loved whatever the outcome of a game, competition, etc. Many children believe that how they “perform” is going to determine how much their parent loves them. Children need to be taught that they are valued and loved for whom they are and not what they can do. They need to know that your love for them is unconditional.
Allowing your child to cry, get angry and express their feelings over the loss is extremely important. Some parents tell children to not cry and that crying is for sissies – and losers don’t’ cry. Being able to have an emotional release and teaching your child appropriate emotional responses is important.
Not immediately after a loss, but at some point, have a time of “looking back.” Talk with your child and see if they think there is anything they could have done differently. Remind them “it’s not how you win or lose, but how you play the game.” Encourage your child to think and talk about what they have learned from their experience.
Always leave the door open for your child to talk with you about the particular area in which they are competing. It may be that continued losses are indications that your child is not ready for the activity, is bored, is not doing it for their own personal enjoyment or satisfaction, or that the training is inadequate.
Continue to encourage. Point out the things you observed that were good. While your child may have not done his/her best, there are things that they did well. Children need to hear what they did well – especially in light of a defeat.
It’s challenging to see someone struggle. It’s very difficult to watch someone lose-especially when they try so hard to be successful. The old adage, “if at first you don’t succeed, try and try again” can be frustrating to hear. However, as it is with anything in life, there are lessons that can be learned from losing. Children, especially, need to be reminded that in all things there is always hope.