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4 ways to help your child keep their friends and be a good sport!
Ok, so a bit dramatic, but it is important we do our best to encourage positive sportsmanship in children. Board games, playground games and sports matches should all be great fun for children and provide them with many opportunities for growth – turn taking, teamwork, empathy, improving concentration and problem-solving to name but a few.
We hear from primary teachers, that being a sore loser has a significant impact in the classroom when children first start school, darkening everyone’s mood and taking time to manage.
Yet there are so many positive behaviours that can exhibited when being a good-sport, behaviours that we would like to see our children exhibit in all aspects of life - following the rules, being respectful to team-mates or opponents, and being fair and honest in play.
There are also many poor behaviours which we would like to see less of - gloating when they win, tantruming when they lose, cheating or being rude to playmates.
Not many people enjoy losing, especially in front of an audience. They might feel embarrassed in front of others, feel a sense of shame that they didn’t do a good enough job, feel like a sub-par performance is a reflection of their self-worth, or have a dent in their pride when losing at something they are especially good at.
Keeping a lid on these unpleasant feelings associated with losing can be very tricky, particularly for children! Children’s frontal lobes are responsible for impulse control and social behaviour and are still developing into their early twenties.
So whilst tears and tantrums are inevitable, as a parent there are a number of ways we can help support our child with losing.
The most obvious one is practice! We are not suggesting that your child loses every time but provide them with the experience of losing when playing against you. Begin with games that they are less passionate about, and if necessary gently coach them through losing gracefully in the moment. You may need to wait until they have calmed down and reflect on the process together later.
Encourage your child to share their feelings about losing; it is healthy and normal to have difficult feelings about losing. Give them the space to share these feelings, acknowledge how they feel, and help support them to behave in a sporting way in front of others despite these tricky feelings. (See Validating Blog for tips on acknowledging feelings)
Find some appropriate (many contain swearing!) YouTube clips of sportsmen and women losing control. Watch the clip together and talk about how their poor behaviour lets them down. (HINT: Tennis has a good selection of sore losers as well as gracious ones)
Talk about the times that some of their sporting heroes have lost a match, what behaviours you notice when you see them lose, and how their heroes can use the loss to learn about what they need to work on for future successes
We can also talk about winning having an element of luck, and that we just need to focus on doing what is in our own control
Talk about times when you have struggled with losing something in life, and how you managed to be gracious and move forward in a positive way, or times you struggled and what the negative consequences were for you
When we lose a game against our child, or when we watch our child lose a sports match, we have an opportunity to teach -
Graciously congratulate the winner(s) ‘Well done!’
Complement the winner’s cheer squad (parents) ‘Congratulations! Your child played a great match.’
We can share our feelings when we lose or validate their feelings when they lose -
‘Good game, you played really thoughtfully. I feel so frustrated. I am going to try really really hard to do better next time by watching your moves more carefully.’
‘I know you feel disappointed that you lost, I feel disappointed for you too.’
Model helpful self-talk -
‘I lost this time, but I am going to learn from it and do better next time’
Praise effort, moving focus away from the outcome -
‘I was so proud of the way you tried your hardest right up until the end’
‘That was a great match, we have so many things we can work on improving for next time’
Show your child, their team-mates and umpires respect, by talking to and about them respectfully – especially when you are on the sidelines! Keep sideline comments positive and encouraging, rather than critical. Expect the same from your child.
Encourage your child to follow the rules, to understand why games have rules and help them develop empathy by considering what it is like for other people when they break the rules. How do they feel when others break the rules?
Teach acceptance -
Sometimes people make mistakes in a game - including umpires!
Take responsibility, own the loss and learn from it
Work on self-respect by encouraging your child to behave in a way they are happy with even if they feel bad inside. We have a choice about losing gracefully and our child should be proud if they are able to do so. Self-respect also includes self-talk – no beating themselves up, rather help them focus on using the disappointment to motivate practice
Being a respectful winner! It can be almost as hard to contain the pride and excitement from a win, as the frustration and disappointment from a loss. Here is another opportunity to help teach empathy, by encouraging your child to be a thoughtful winner –
How is it likely to make their opponent feel if your child gloats after a win?
How does your child feel if someone gloats and makes a big fuss when they win?
And as a final thought, we consider the writer Carl Sandburg’s inspirational growth mindset quote which reminds us that losing is a necessary step towards great success
“To be a good loser is to learn how to win”
Now go get ’em!