5 Ways Your Child Can Cope with Losing

We're raising a generation of kids who aren't allowed to lose. In sports, school, and recreational activities - everyone is a winner. But losing and enduring disappointment is a crucial part of growing up. Mighty Mommy shares 5 ways you can balance winning and losing in your child’s everyday life.


Cheryl Butler,
April 6, 2014
Episode #274

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Tip #3: Keep Score

It’s not uncommon for scoreboards across the nation to stay turned off during game time so that younger kids who play recreational sports don't have to worry about who’s ahead and who’s behind.  This way, at the end of the game or season, everyone’s a winner. Today, participation trophies and prizes are almost a given, regardless of a child’s skill level or achievement. Yes, awards can be powerful motivators, but nonstop recognition does not inspire children to succeed. Instead, it can do just the opposite and cause them to underachieve. 

Most kids are very savvy when it comes to knowing which kids are the better athletes on the field, regardless of whether there’s a score being kept. They pretty much know who really deserved the medals that were handed out to all 15 kids on the team.  Not every child is going to have the knack, coordination, or skill set to be a competitive athlete - but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have the opportunity to get out there to play and have fun.  This also means it’s Ok for them to leave the season empty-handed without a plastic trophy that doesn’t hold any special meaning.

Parents can be instrumental in helping young kids embrace a running scoreboard by how they conduct themselves in the face of a large lead or deficit.  Don’t hoot and holler on the sidelines when your kid’s team is winning or losing.  Cheer for the good plays, for both sides, regardless of the score.  This is when a kid can learn his most valuable lesson during a game.  

See also: 6 Ways to Encourage Good Sportsmanship


Losing is not the same thing as failure. But if you’ve never experienced it, that’s exactly what it’s going to feel like.  So don’t be afraid to watch your child strike out when the scoreboard shows them down by 1 run in the final inning.  Without that scoreboard, you would not have these teachable moments. 

Tip #4: Not Everyone Can Be the Center of Attention

Although we make sure to carve out special one-on-one time with each of our 8 kids, we just don’t have the luxury of doting on them all in the same way. So not everyone is going to receive the same amount of attention at all times—and for that, I’m grateful.

Remember my earlier example of the birthday party where the child's parents allowed the birthday boy's siblings to invite their friends so they wouldn’t feel left out? That action sends a message that everyone should always receive equal treatment under all circumstances.

In the real world, bosses aren’t going to give everyone in the company a bonus if it isn’t warranted and colleges aren’t going to distribute scholarships to the entire graduating class. That's why using opportunities to celebrate real achievements are so important. If you reward a child who stays home and studies regularly with tickets to the movies, and then turn around and also give tickets to his sister who never does her homework, that enforces the illusion. In reality, not everyone is going to receive special awards or be the center of attention. That has to be earned.

Tip #5: Don’t Falsely Praise

Across playgrounds, classrooms, and daycare settings it’s common to hear well-intentioned parents, caregivers, and teachers heap high praise on children, particularly those with low self-esteem.  We then end up praising our kids for not only the remarkable things they do, but for ordinary accomplishments as well. 

“I’m so proud of you Jimmy for washing your hands before snack” gets old if Jimmy knows he’s going to hear that most mornings after circle time.  If Jimmy usually struggles putting a puzzle together, however, and sticks with it all week long until he finally completes it, then you have a wonderful reason to let him know how much you admired his efforts.  “I think it’s wonderful, Jimmy, that you didn’t give up and worked so hard on finishing that puzzle—great job!”

My daughter who is graduating from high school this year has a learning disability which causes her to spend twice the amount of time studying as her brothers.  We praise her good study habits on a regular basis but we don’t go overboard as she’s about to dive into her homework each night because that’s her normal routine.  Instead, we look for something special she’s achieved, like completing her senior thesis and we make a big deal out of that.  It means more to her knowing that we’ve recognized the difference between something she’s worked hard at rather than her routine efforts.

By sincerely praising kids for their effort and hard work, they’re learning to value praise and that it's not easily given.

See also; 5 Ways to Speak Positively to Your Child


How have you allowed your child to experience defeat? How did it go?  Share your thoughts in the comment section at quickanddirtytips.com/mighty-mommy or post your ideas on the Mighty Mommy Facebook page. You can also connect with me on Twitter @MightyMommy or e-mail me at mommy@quickanddirtytips.com.  Visit my family-friendly boards at Pinterest.com/MightyMommyQDT where I continually update my selections.

First place winnerscoreboard, and other images courtesy of Shutterstock.


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