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In some ways we parents ourselves foster the love of winning. Our kids know (or we tell them) that we want to be proud of them.
We praise them for doing well in their activities. We teach them how to play board games and sports so they can figure out we think these things are important. Some of us are very competitive ourselves and model gleeful high fives when we win at tennis. Or we root so loud for our team on TV that we reinforce the importance of winning.
Of course we tell our kids to play fair, winning isn’t everything, somebody always wins and somebody loses. But often what we say has less impact than what we do.
Some kids are more competitive than others. Little kids just learning how to play Candyland can’t see any reason to sit there on the floor unless they win so the first few times they play with friends can lead to howls as the disappointed child upsets the board.
Some developmental stages are more competitive than others. Sixes hate to lose. Being a good sport and losing with a smile is not easy for many grown-ups but it is almost impossible for many kids this age. Six-year-old kids care passionately about games and always want to win and be first. They care so much that they cheat or accuse the other player of cheating or break down in tears.
There are some things parents can do to help out a child who doesn’t deal well with losing. Paradoxically, one thing you can do is let young children win when you are introducing them to games. Some parents think they should always play “for real” lest the kids think wins will always be handed to them on a platter. Actually, winning helps the child feel competent — the concept of chance means little to a three-year old — and feeling competent helps the child enjoy games and be more ready for the give-and-take reality of playing games.
Another parental strategy is to take the games away if the child is getting too upset at losing and reintroduce them at a later date when the child seems ready.
Some kids can tolerate losing to their siblings but not their friends; others are just the opposite so the worst fights are with sibs.
Playing team sports is a good way to introduce kids to the sometimes-you-win / sometimes-you-lose concept. The other kids on the team seem to dilute the horrors of losing. Coaches stress good sportsmanship but kids learn much about how to deal with life’s disappointments from their peers.
Sometimes the dislike or fear of losing becomes very pervasive for a while. One mother described a six-year-old who has a tantrum if he starts to lose when playing a computer game and begins to cry uncontrollably if he is losing when playing board games with his friends. In a case like that I suggest parents not interfere unless there is fighting or destructive behavior like throwing the Monopoly game across the room. Rather let the kids work out any fights. Let the affected child learn that from the other children that such behavior is out of line. If parental interference is necessary suggest non-competitive play like an art project or baking cookies (yes, boys like to bake).
It’s OK to point out that you win some and you lose some but don’t dwell on it. Don’t keep saying that losing is part of playing — kids will figure that out for themselves. They’ll also figure out that if you’re not a good sport, which means being a good loser, other kids won’t want to play with you.
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