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While it's perfectly natural for your child to be disappointed when she loses something she's worked hard for, like the championship soccer game, it is important for her to learn to accept loss without feelings of bitterness or low self-esteem. A child who doesn't learn to lose graciously has a hard time making friends and is often frustrated by failures. Here are some ways to encourage a sourpuss to sweeten up.
- Play on your child's sense of empathy. At this age, she's starting to develop the ability to put herself in another person's place. She can now begin to understand that getting angry when she doesn't win hurts the feelings of the people she's playing with. Ask her to think about how it would feel if someone got angry at her when she did something she was proud of. Tell her that it's okay to be sad about losing, but she should try not to hurt others because of it.
- Play cooperative games. Noncompetitive games eliminate winning and losing altogether and help your child learn what it's like to play on a team. Try hitting a balloon back and forth, or play a game of Chinese checkers in which the idea is to get your marbles on her side and hers on your side at roughly the same time. As children get older, they will have to start playing with teammates to accomplish a common goal, and cooperative games give them a great foundation for this.
- Emphasize effort, skill, and fun. It's trite but true: "It's not whether you win or lose but how you play the game." Your job is to get your child to take this adage to heart. After she plays a game with a friend, ask, "Did you have a good time?" instead of "Who won?" Offer praise for anything done well, no matter how small it may seem. The more you can get your child thinking about developing the skills needed to be a good player — regardless of the outcome — the less important winning becomes.
- Teach your child how to win and lose well. Show her what it means to be a good winner and a good loser. Tell her that good winners don't brag about victories or make fun of another player's skills. And help her become a good loser by giving her opportunities to lose as she plays against you. It seems harsh, but she'll never learn the skill if she doesn't practice it. Most important, don't let her see you being a poor sport. Take your losses well, and always congratulate the winner.
If your child regularly "loses it" when she loses, you might need to take a break from game playing altogether. Turn the focus to other areas of her life that she can feel good about. And teach her that mistakes are okay by not reacting harshly when she makes one. For example, instead of getting angry about a bad grade in school, talk about what she can do to do better. In time, you should see some improvement.