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Have you ever let your kid score on you repeatedly during a backyard soccer game to show him that he's a great soccer player? Have you ever slowed down during a running race to make sure that your little one is the first to cross the finish line? Of course you have. As parents, our gut reaction is to protect our kids by letting them win. For some parents, the tendency to let little ones win stems from wanting to enjoy the time spent together, and a crying child who doesn't know how to cope with loss isn't always enjoyable. For other parents, this tendency stems from wanting to protect little ones from the harsh realities of the world. Losing isn't fun and is often frustrating. Is cheating to lose really a big deal?
As it turns out, it is. Sure, there are ways to tailor games to meet the developmental needs of little ones so that a child isn't always on the losing end. But winning every single time does little to help children learn to cope with failure. In fact, it presents a false sense of reality. Kids need to learn how to cope with failure as they grow, particularly during the school age years.
The world is a competitive place. Be it on the field or in the classroom, kids are being pushed to succeed at an early age. The fact is that not every single child can be the best at everything, which means that children need to learn how to lose.
Teach coping skills
It's much easier for kids to practice losing in their own backyard than it is on the playground during recess. If every soccer game ends with a score of 10-0 in your child's favor, your child will come to expect this outcome every time he plays. When you challenge your child, you teach your child to cope with the stress of the challenge. Instead of running across the yard and scoring each time he gets the ball, your child is forced to stop and problem solve. Although there might be tears the first few times you score a goal, you can take the opportunity to help you learn to work through the frustration.
Teach your child to take a few deep breaths when frustrated, reframe the situation (ex: switch the thought process from "I'm losing" to "I still have time to win"), and use positive self-talk no matter the outcome. Talking about what went right instead of focusing on the final score is a real confidence booster.
Lessons in empathy
It's very difficult to identify with other people when you're always on top. How can your child possibly empathize with a classmate if your child has never had the opportunity to lose? Every time your child loses (be it a running race or a game of UNO), he learns a lesson in struggling to meet goals. We all have to work hard to meet our goals, and sometimes we come up short. That can feel devastating for a child who never loses. Losing helps us build perseverance. We learn that we need to find our mistakes and learn from them to move forward to that end goal of success.
Kids who learn how to cope with failure are better able to empathize with other kids. They know and understand that feeling of defeat. They also know that failure is short-term, and another opportunity for success is just around the corner.
I know it might seem like losing will have a negative impact on a child's self-confidence, but the opposite is true. When parents teach children that winning isn't the only form of success, children learn to accept defeat as part of the learning process. Increased self-confidence comes from learning and growing as an individual. When kids practice learning from their mistakes, they take pride in their overall growth. They learn that they are capable, knowledgeable and good problem-solvers.
Learning to lose without tears takes time and patience, but the sooner you start, the more capable your child will be when it comes to coping with the ups and downs of life.