Is your child a sore loser? Teach them how to be a good sport!
Does your kiddo lose their brain when they lose a game? Do you find yourself losing on purpose so they won’t FREAK OUT??
Teaching good sportsmanship is important, but it can definitely be a challenge for our little perfectionists to learn. Many kiddos resort to damaging property (i.e., throwing or breaking things), or physical aggression toward themselves or others when they lose. I have had many an object launched through the clinic when working on this skill in OT.
Playing a game with an adult who’s willing to lose so the child gets a boost of self-confidence is appropriate at times, but peers will likely not forfeit a win to appease a friend. Here’s a fun, easy and stress-free way to teach your child to be a good sport.
Select a game that can NOT be won by chance. Good games for this activity are actually ones that can be controlled and manipulated (won or lost on purpose).
Some examples are:
A race to the finish line
Who can jump the highest or furthest?
Who can stand on one foot the longest?
Now For The Teachable Moment!!
The key to this activity’s effectiveness is that you and your child are NOT going to play as “yourselves”.
Choose a character, figurine, or stuffed animal in which to be. Allow your child to choose their character and then you choose yours.
Choose your game.
Decide how many times you are going to play the game/s.
Decide which CHARACTER is going to “win” first. Usually the child wants his/her character to win first, of course. You can even allow their character to win more than one time in a row.
5. Make a chart something like this:
Place an “X” on the chart to indicate the characters’ wins. Make the chart BEFORE you begin playing the games. This is not a scorecard to be used after a win has been achieved, but rather a chart showing who WILL win before the race/game has even started.
Let the games begin!!
Remember, the “wins” are controlled by the chart. You have already established which character will win for each race or game. Let’s say you decide your characters are going to have a race. Make a starting point and a finish line. Be creative. Use painter’s tape on the floor or set up a ribbon in which to run through. Have Fun!
“Ready, Get Set, GO!”
Unicorn (the adult’s character) will “run” very, very slowly, of course. I recommend making it an obvious win for Kermit (your child’s character), at least at first. Allowing Kermit to win twice in a row will give you two times to model “losing” and how to handle it like a good sport. After your child is used to the activity, you can always make it a closer race.
Model How To Be A Good Sport
“Kermit wins! Hooray!” Model for your child how to be a good sport despite the loss. Unicorn could say something like, “I’m disappointed that I didn’t win, but I did my best. I can always try again.” End each game with a hand-shake or fist pump, (or in the times of Covid…an elbow bump), “Good game!” REMEMBER…The “fist pump” or other congratulations should be BETWEEN CHARACTERS NOT BETWEEN ADULT AND CHILD!
Reference The Chart
Now it’s time for Unicorn to win. It’s very likely that your child will still try to win (make their character win). If they begin “running” fast to the finish line, stop and show them the chart. Remind them, “Remember, it’s Unicorn’s turn to win. We are going to follow the chart. Look, Kermit gets to win the next two times. Ok, let’s try again…remember let Unicorn win this time.”
You may need to do this several times depending on your child. You also may need to remind your child, “Remember, you’re not losing, Kermit is losing, and it’s OK. I know Kermit can be a good sport even if he doesn’t win just like Unicorn was a good sport when she didn’t win!”
Yay! Unicorn wins this round. “Good game!” Fist bump! Your child may have difficulty saying, “Good game,” even from his character’s perspective. Encourage the CHARACTER, “Kermit, you need to say good game. That’s being a good sport. You can do it, Kermit!” As you can see, you will be playing the role of both yourself AND your character as needed.
Continue following the chart. It’s probably best, at least the first few times you use this technique, to allow your child’s character to be the first and last to “win”. You know, begin and end on a positive note! You could also have a tie at the end.
Congratulations! Your Child Is Learning To Be A Good Sport!!
Everyone wants their child to be a good sport! For many children, losing can be so devastating and cause such severe reactions, participating in common childhood activities are nearly impossible. I’ve seen kiddos who can’t participate in a neighborhood game of kick-ball, enjoy recess at school or birthday parties with their friends. I’ve even worked with kiddos who have been dismissed from daycares or summer camps due to an inability to be a good sport.
Give It A Try!
Give this activity a try! I think you will be pleasantly surprised how effective this strategy is!! Using CHARACTERS takes the pressure off your child just enough to practice accepting a loss. I’d love to hear how it works for your child! I have definitely found it to be a game changer!! I know your kiddo can learn to be a good sport!!