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Winning isn’t everything. Unless you are four.

January 2, 2010

For a variety of cognitive and developmental reasons, preschoolers have a hard time when they don’t win.  Win at what?  Well, just about everything.  Getting in the car first.  Finishing breakfast first.  Making it to the front door first.  Candyland.  Chutes and Ladders.  Go Fish.

When faced with your child’s dramatically distraught tears at not being the WINNER (and sometimes you didn’t even know there was a contest!), it’s not always easy to know what to do.  It seems reasonable to tip the odds in their favor, right?  To avoid a meltdown AND to give them the opportunity to succeed.  But what about when your four year old is stacking the Candyland deck?  Or hiding under the couch in a fit of tears when they aren’t the first one to the Candyland Castle?

Preschoolers are in the very beginning stages of learning about their feelings.  Help them out by labeling the feelings you see them expressing.

“It’s disappointing not to be the winner.”

“You seem really sad that you didn’t win the game this time.”

Remind them that the game you played was a lot more than just winners versus losers.

“We had so much fun playing this game together!”

Model being a good loser.

“You won!  Hooray!  I’m second place!  This game was so much fun!”

It’s easy to get frustrated with our little ones.  All of the fun feels a little spoiled when your preschooler is sobbing.  No one wants to play with a sore loser, right?  Except as parents, it’s our job to help our children cope with disappointment and learn to be a gracious in “second place.”  Unfortunately, our children’s lives will be filled with disappointment.  This is inevitable and no amount of super parenting can (or should) protect them from this.  Instead, we can help them label their feelings and develop coping skills.  And we should play more games together!!! The more opportunities your child has to “lose” and realize that not only has the world not ended, but the game was actually fun regardless of who won, the sooner they will be able to manage their tears.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Faye permalink
    January 3, 2010 9:10 am

    Such great tips! Thank you. We were just dealing with this last week. I spent a long time talking about how sometimes in games there can only be one person who wins, but everyone still likes to play games because it’s fun. I talked about how feeling OK about not being the winner is hard to learn, and that it’s something that even grown-ups have to work on. We’ve really tried to avoid using the words “winning” and “losing” when we play together as a family, but discovery of the concept is inevitable. We often ask Ivy at the beginning if she wants to play by the rules or play her own way, if she wants us to help her be the winner or play our best. I really do think dealing with your own performance is one of life’s big lessons, and it’s going to come up again and again.

    • January 3, 2010 5:26 pm

      @Faye- Great ideas! I love how you talk to her before the game starts to decide how she wants to play. Thanks for the tip! I, too, have found that it is very hard to avoid the terms “winning” and “losing.” We have a lot of “second winners” which is sometimes acceptable and sometimes not. And you are so right- it’s hard even for adults not to be the “winners!”

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