A Parenting Challenge

I think like most parents I’ve struggled with various behaviours or stages with both my children and I know for sure that I have many more struggles to come…. argh teenagers!  However I have come across one challenge recently that I’m not at all sure how to deal with or overcome and that is how to teach your child to be a good loser.

Miss Four has only recently started playing games in competition with other players where one person wins and the other…. well loses.  It’s not something I’ve purposely shielded her from, more that she’s really only know reaching an age where she understands the concepts and rules of such games.  So far we have two that are played on a semi regular basis.  One is Hungry Hungry Hippos and the other is a shopping list memory-type game.

Now because she usually plays with Miss Two or with an accommodating adult Miss Four has gotten used to always winning.  So on the odd occasion when Miss Two manages a win or if the adult playing with her doesn’t naturally let her win and she actually loses there is a mega-meltdown tantrum to follow, complete with throwing of said game.  I’ve tried talking to her about why it’s important to be a ‘good loser’, and that the fun is in playing the game not in the winning but has made little difference.  Even when I said, rather harshly, that no one wants to play with people to aren’t good losers (obviously explaining that term first), she continues in her ways.  Eventually I started putting her in time out, something I rarely do, when she behaves in this manner and now we just don’t play the games at all.

I’m not the type of mother who goes in for this everyone wins all the time theory or who thinks awards for doing what you should be doing anyway actually teaches kids anything worthwhile.  I don’t believe everyone should have a turn of being student of the week or some such accolade.  I think it should be merit based and awards should be rare and precious not everyday or even every week.  And I want my children to learn that sometimes you lose and that’s okay, you play and have fun anyway.

So do you think I’m expecting too much of a four and a half year old, is this just typical age appropriate behaviour that I have to ride out.  Or should I persevere with this lesson?  And if so what tactic would you use?

The calm before the tantrumming storm.

The calm before the tantrumming storm.

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11 Responses to A Parenting Challenge

  1. Liz says:

    My children did/do behave exactly like this. I personally think it is more about their inability to deal with frustration at things being outside their control/ability than being a ‘bad loser’ per se. My kids also have tantrums if they can’t climb to the top of the monkey bars/kick the footy through the goals/draw a perfect picture of a doll etc etc etc. (Things that they aren’t actually competing with anyone to achieve). I would say that my grade one (7 year old) daughter is now much much better at controlling her frustration than she used to be though. I think school helps. She has started to see both that: some people are just better than others at things, but also that if she works hard at something she will generally eventually master it. The other thing that has helped is that she now lets my 4 year old win at things (mainly so he wont throw a tantrum) and that has given her a bit of perspective on the importance of winning every game of monopoly we play. She still loses it occasionally if she is just playing with me though.

    Incidentally I do believe that everyone (within reason) should get a chance to be the pupil of the week, especially in the first few years of primary school. I can’t imagine a situation that you wouldn’t be able to find some positive behaviour in each child to reward with an award and thus reinforce the importance of continuing those behaviours. My daughter’s school gives ‘responsible student’ awards every week which means that most kids get about 2 a year. The pride on their faces when they get their award for “listening with their whole body” or whatever the teacher has identified is lovely and I trust the teachers enough to think they are actually identifying the kids real strengths and rewarding the really positive when it happens.

    • Barbara Good says:

      She does show some signs of frustrations by not being able to conquer a task too Liz, but never a full on tanty like when she loses. I’m sure you’re right about growing out of it and school helping etc, but a difficult thing to deal with right now. I love that your seven year old lets her brother win, very cute.

      As for the student of the week thing I may well change my mind when I see my kids getting them. My perspective to date is purely from having high school student constantly wanting full on recognition for doing what I think they should just do because it’s the right thing… like listening and handing their homework in on time or bringing their equipment to class. I’m all for praise when you do the right thing, or encouragement for conquering something you found difficult (like sitting still or following instructions), I’m just not so sure about formal awards for these things.

  2. Cat says:

    A tricky one, yes.

    One that I tried that often worked was stating it before the game started and agreeing first or no game. ‘Remember, only one person wins and sometimes we’re lucky, sometimes we’re not. Still want to play?’ type of thing.
    Good luck! Can get harder when they start proper competitive sports.

  3. We’ve had similar with Jas, always wanting to race us and win. I will let him win sometimes (I do have longer legs so in most cases I would naturally win) if it suits, if I’m busting for the loo though and it’s a race to get inside I don’t care how much he wants to win 😉 but he has seemed to grow out of it somewhat. I think it’s just a stage. When Jas had his meltdowns I just put him in time out or his room to calm down. We also have a “calm down” jar – large plastic container filled with water and glitter glue. The lid is glued on fast. When they are hyeractive I shake it up and get them to sit and wath the glitter settle to the bottom of the jar. That activity usually gets 30 minutes of shake and settle from them then. 😉 It’s still a time out but a rather pleasant and lovely one. 🙂
    What about the option of taking the game away if it causes the bad reaction? “If she can’t play nicely or fairly then maybe it’s not a good game to play this week” sort of thing?

    • Barbara Good says:

      Love the calm down jar idea. Must get on and make one of those, what a lovely gentle way to break the cycle of a tantrum.
      I do take the game away for a period of time after these incidents – which means we don’t play them often because more often then not the games are banished for a week after each attempt.
      She does do the racing competitions, ie races her sister getting undressed for the bath, or races me to the end of the street etc, but these don’t tend to end in the same tantrums for some reason, regardless of whether she wins or not. But I do know exactly what you mean about busting for the loo when you come home from somewhere, there’s no getting in my way then either.

      • The calm down jar has worked a real treat in our house. 🙂
        I too take things away for a week when there is an episode. Mainly in our house it’s about cleaning up their trains and/or blocks/duplo from the dining area floor. When it’s not done they go away for a week. Usually they’re back out for a day and then they’re not cleaned up again so they spend more time asking and being denied playing with the trains they all love than actually being allowed to play with them. 😦 Still, they have been cleaning them up this week so maybe, just maybe the lesson has sunk in.

  4. jeanieinparadise says:

    It is hard – I remember my nephew having a doozy of a meltdown when he lost at that age, as he had been allowed to win before that..

    Uno is a good game for that age to learn that sometimes you win, sometimes you lose – we had a bit of a marathon on the weekend with Ms nearly 4 and Ms 14 – it was fun and when the game is about the playing and not about the winning, it is best.

  5. A says:

    I haven’t had to deal with this with my bub yet, but like Cat suggested, with a student who didn’t deal well with losing we would talk before the game and I’d ask “So what are you going to do if you lose?” And after doing that about three times he had a lot more fun. It seemed to put the possibility into his head and deal with the disappointment now. Not sure if it will help with a 4yo and if she can carry that thought through to the end of the game.
    Love the calm down jar too 🙂

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