It is that time of year. The Super Bowl just took place yesterday. The Winter Olympics are about to begin. Everyone is watching, cheering for their favorites and talking about sports competitions. What a good time to teach your kids some valuable lessons about winning and losing. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, only one runner receives the prize in a race. That means that, even though a runner has given it his best, he might not be the one who receives the prize.
What an important life lesson! Of course, we should always do our very best. But no matter how hard we try, we will not always win the prize. Unfortunately, some families and institutions try to shield kids from learning this life lesson. Everyone gets a trophy. Everyone gets a ribbon. Everyone wins. This is doing the kids such a disservice, because in life, no one wins every time they compete. Learning to be a good winner – and a good loser, are essential lessons that will serve your child well now and in the future.
So how can we help our kids learn to run in such a way to win the prize, while understanding that someone else might ultimately win? Here are some suggestions that might help.
First, realize that it is human nature to be competitive. If you have more than one child, you see it every day, don’t you? Sibling rivalry is a normal part of growing up in a family, and it is actually a very healthy thing as long as it remains in the competitive mode and doesn’t disintegrate into bullying. Kids competing with brothers and sisters within the safety net of a loving family can help them learn important skills such as problem solving and negotiating. This sort of practice at home can serve to prepare them well for the rough-and-tumble playground social world that lies ahead.
Avoid the urge to fix your kids’ problems for them. While you need to be nearby and keep a disagreement from turning into a physical altercation, give them a chance to figure out a solution without your help. If you do need to step in, do so as a coach, not a judge. Help them each express their own ideas and guide them in listening to each other until they come up with a solution. You might be amazed at how well they can do this, given the chance.
Let your kids lose. Whether it is playing a board game or running a race, avoid the temptation to “let” her win. If she pouts or cries, that’s ok. Let her feel her feelings and don’t discount them because it was “only a game.” Reflect her feelings. “You’re really disappointed that you lost.”
As soon as the tears are dried, use the opportunity to help your child evaluate his performance and plan for future success. You might point out to them that the best athletes in the world spend a lot of time reviewing plays and learning better strategies. Coach your kids in learning from their failures and guide them in making plans for improvement.
Work on the ways you define success. Before a competition, talk with your kids about the definition of success. Put the emphasis on doing your best, not on winning.
Point out the positives. You might say, “You lost, but you did X so much better this time than last time. “ This moves the conversation from something in the past that can’t be controlled to something in the future in which your child can make changes that might affect future outcomes.
Encourage good sportsmanship – and model it, yourself. Make sure that you and your child congratulate the winner and do so with a genuine spirit. Your kids learn so much more from watching what you do than from listening to what you say. By being a good loser yourself, you are teaching them how to lose with grace, show respect for others and move on in a positive way to what’s next.
So, enjoy watching the upcoming sporting events with your kids and use the opportunities that will present themselves to talk about the realities of winning and losing. It will serve them well.