Losing with grace

My 3 year old Rish was playing ‘Dog and the bone’ with a bunch of kids last evening.

{For those of you who are not familiar with the game – two teams compete to get hold of the ‘bone’ (often a ball, handkerchief, or some other item). The objective is for a member of a team to pick up the object that is placed between the two teams and get it to their end without being tagged by a member of the opposite team. Every time a team does that successfully, they score a point.}

In the first two rounds Rish managed to score points for his team. However, soon afterwards he lost two consecutive points. Where he was all excited (kept smiling and jumping around) after the first two rounds, his demeanor changed after he lost the next two rounds (he was on the verge of crying). He obviously did not like losing.

We have all seen this competitive behavior in children. A lot of us were highly competitive ourselves when we were children. We would cheat at times or even bend the rules, only so we could win in the end.

While this behavior is natural, as parents we have a responsibility to ensure that our children are able to operate efficiently in this increasingly competitive world. I would like to share here three lessons that I have learned, that I consciously practice with my son:

Let them win, but not always:

As the younger sibling, there were many times that my brother let me win in games that we played when we were younger. That said, there were other times when he made me work hard to win and then times he would win. My mother always had some wise words to share when I went to her (mostly in a foul mood) after losing. I believe this balance (win sometimes, lose others) is very important to help build the child’s confidence and also their ability to accept failure. And of course, those words from you when your child comes to you after losing, priceless.

What gets rewarded:

At end of a race, the child who came first was rewarded not just with a medal from the organizers, but also with a hug, high-five, words of praise and a treat at McD from the parents. The one who came second, got none of it. The child who came third received no medal, but received a hug, high-five, words of praise and a treat at McD for running so well. How do you think the 3 children feel? Attaching rewards only to success depreciates some children’s ability to cope with failure. And remember, acting indifferent (no reaction at all) is also going to have a negative impact on the child.

Watch your behaviour:

Children learn a lot (if not everything) from their parents. How do you react to failures in the game of life? (I am obviously not referring to the board game) They are watching you and there is a fair chance they will imitate you in their reactions. I once saw a 5 year old say ‘Shit’ a number of times while playing a game on his father’s mobile phone. Not surprisingly I had heard his father do the same earlier.

All said and done, winning and losing are part of the game. Life is exciting because things don’t always turn out the way we want them to. So where we spend a lot of time teaching our children how to win, we should also teach them how to lose…with grace!

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One Response to Losing with grace

  1. Well Said Amit 🙂


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