Turn a sore loser into a good sport

Your 7-year-old is a sore loser. How do you help her enjoy activities — win or lose?

Parent advice

Many of us feel we should let our child win every game or event. By doing this, we are teaching our children the inability to celebrate others' success and difficulty coping with losing. Don't wait until they're 7 to teach sportsmanship. Start at toddlerhood.

Upon completion of games, as the adult-winner, model these actions: "Good job, that was fun," and shake hands with, give a thumbs up to or high-five the loser. Encourage the same actions from the child who won to the losing opponents. If negative reactions continue to occur, tell the child that she will not be allowed to participate in the next game until she is ready to have fun, whether winning or losing.

— Paula Glenn

Expert advice

Your child may never "enjoy" losing at Candy Land, and that's OK. Your focus should be helping her rebound from a disappointing outcome — not teaching her to mask her frustration.

"We don't say emotions are good or bad; we say there are comfortable emotions and uncomfortable emotions," says Joy Berry, a child-development specialist and the author of more than 250 children's books, including "Let's Talk About Feeling Disappointed" and "Being a Bad Sport," all of which can be found at "What's important is that you tell children exactly how to take an uncomfortable emotion and turn it into something positive."

Berry offers some dos and don'ts for turning losses into learning experiences.

Do let her feel disappointed. "Some parents are consumed with trying to avoid their child having any kind of disappointment, to the point of everyone on a team getting trophies or certificates so nobody feels bad," Berry says. "It's very noble, but disappointment prepares children for bigger disappointments later in life. You don't want to raise a child who tears down the tents and goes home every time they're disappointed."

Don't set your child up to fail. "Life is going to deal you enough blows," Berry says. "We don't need to set up failures for kids so they learn a lesson." Choose age-appropriate activities for your child that he or she has a fair shot at winning. "Games that don't take certain skills but are left to chance are a good way to level the playing field."

Do have a post-game chat. "It's important to say, 'There is no way anyone wins all the time, and there are going to be some times when you lose. When you do, it's important that you're gracious. When you win, it's important that you're a gracious winner too."

Don't model sore loser-dom. "When your child beats you at a game, you can demonstrate how to be a good sport. 'Congratulations for winning! Let's play again!' Tell them they did a great job and show them how to be a gracious loser."

Do focus on the positive. "After a loss, say, 'Great game. I really like the way you did this and this.' Try to get them to focus on the things that did go right and emphasize the importance of doing that in every phase of life."

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