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Teaching your kids not to be sore losers

Jen Klein is a New England-based technical writer and mother of three. When she isn't asking her kids to stop bickering, "caramelizing" the dinner or actively ignoring the dust bunnies under the couch, she enjoys knitting, gardening, pho...

Losing is not being a loser

You probably can hear your own mother saying it now, just like you say it to your kids, “Don’t be a sore loser.” Whether it’s a soccer game or a board game, it can be hard to lose. Not only does it feel so good to win, but losing can feel so deeply personal. Even when it’s not.

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As a general rule, our society does not like "losers" and seems to apply that term all too loosely to any manner of outcome that is not traditional winning. It's no wonder it can be hard to learn how to lose gracefully!

Your child needs your help to learn the difference between losing and being a loser, and how to accept loss even when he or she gives the best possible effort.

What does it mean to lose?

Losing a game or some other competition does not mean a person is a "loser." It means he or she wasn't first in that particular competition or circumstance. While it's a distinction that can be difficult to convey at times, it's an important one.

Yes, technically when one loses a competition, one is the "loser," but it does not mean one did not try his or her hardest, or is somehow unworthy of winning. Not at all. It's one game and it does not define your child's whole life. Even if it feels like it in the moment.

Feelings are real

Losing can be hard, though. Particularly when you've worked hard in preparation, loss can feel deeply personal and it can sting. Those feelings are real, and even adults have trouble managing them. Expecting a child to be able to manage such challenging feelings without guidance from you in unrealistic. Validating that hurt feelings do exist while reiterating the lessons of effort and sportsmanship can make a difference. Whether your child and his or her team are in the win or lose column is irrelevant -- they are loved and you are proud of them no matter the outcome.

Admitting imperfection

Sometimes, when you lose a game or a competition, it does mean admitting that you didn't play your best, or maybe didn't give it your all. Not only can this be hard to admit, it can feel embarrassing. This is something that goes beyond being a "sore loser" and into discussions about best effort in general.

Focus on the process

You can't win -- and you can't lose -- if you don't even try. Helping your child to focus on the process of competition -- indeed, any effort -- as opposed to the outcome can help mitigate the disappointment of losing single games, or even a whole season of games.

Everyone loses at some point. It's hard to lose, no doubt about it -- but you can help your child learn to lose gracefully...and so they're willing to keep getting back in the game.

More on kids and sportsmanship

What kids wish their parents knew about sportsmanship
Be a sports role model for your kids
Bringing up Beckham: Raising athletic kids


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