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My Kid Is a Sore Loser

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My kid is a true competitor, and we used to think it was cute. Not anymore.

Young girl screaming in soccer field

Guest blogger Bethany Sanders: When she was 3, it was kind of cute. My daughter would say, "Let's race!" Then she'd make us stand and watch while she ran ahead, ponytails bouncing, only yelling "GO!" once she had an unbeatable head start.

My kid has always hated to lose. And for a long time, we indulged her by letting her win almost every game we played.

But then one day during a playdate, I saw her pull it with an easygoing neighborhood friend. No matter what they were playing together, my kiddo manipulated the situation so that she always had the upper hand and her friend was the underdog. I'd modeled the "good loser" for her many times, but it was that day that I realized she needed a little actual experience losing.

So I quit letting her win. No more letting her peek at cards during Candy Land. No more looking away while she skipped over that big "chute" on the Chutes and Ladders board that takes you back to the beginning of the game. For a while, I would still sometimes cheat to lose -- not stealing her piece in Trouble, for instance. But over the last year or so, I've let those kinds of things fall away, too.

And you know what? Not only is she a better person for it, she's a better player, too.

The first couple of times she lost were hard -- she was used to winning, after all. She even went through a stage where, if she saw she was losing, she'd want to quit in the middle of the game. But those moments gave us an opportunity for good conversation on why we play games (they're fun!) and how to be a good sport. At 7, she still can't stand losing, but she can handle it with grace.

Interestingly, she's also a lot harder to beat. The first time she trumped me fair and square at Sorry, I realized that just giving her my "B" game wasn't good enough. So when we play games now, we play for real. She got a checkers set for Christmas, and it annoys her to no end that she's yet to win a game. But when we played last weekend, she got a couple of legitimately good moves in on me -- a double jump, even, the little stinker. Each time she loses, she learns a little more.

This month, she's taking part for the third time in her school's read-a-thon, a fundraising competition that's really hard to win. She got third place in preschool. Last year, she didn't even come close, but as luck would have it she won a bike -- a bike! -- in the raffle that followed. Where's the lesson in that, I ask you?

This year, we wanted to take the emphasis off of trying to beat the other kids and focus on self-improvement instead. With our guidance, she set a personal goal to meet, a number of books she wants to read over the course of a month. If she reaches her goal, we'll pay her a nickel per book as a reward. With the focus off competition, she's way less stressed about it and is reading more than ever.

I'm pretty sure that little tiger's secretly hoping to win, though.

Do you have a competitive kid? How far do you let them take it?


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57 comments so far | Post a comment now
Hannah April 7, 2010, 2:04 PM

My great-grandmother used to play chess with my dad every weekend night. She never let him win. She’d give him hints like “are you sure you want to make that move” or things like that but she never let him win. He never did win a chess game with her. But he says those are his best memories. Just sitting with her drinking rootbeer floats and playing chess.
My parents alway wanted us to be ok with losing. They never made a big deal if we lost. Only saying well you’ve learned something (when the other player did a move or something we’d never seen) for next time. I remember feeling disappointed when i lost things but i always congratulated the winner. I was happy for them even though i was sad i lost. The only time i ever remember crying because i lost (and this was when i was 9 and i was crying not pitching a fit. i wasnt angry i was sad) was the year that the football team that i was a cheerleader for didn’t win a single game that season. And i was more crying because i had some friend in the team that were really upset. We were always taught you win some you lose some. Kids should learn that at a young age. It’s good for them to understand the world doesnt revolve around them and they will not always be the best at what they do.

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