Teaching Children To Lose Gracefully

This is a life lesson that I am currently working on with my son. The lesson is relatively simple. Many times when we are playing games with others we are going to lose. You cannot win every time, even the greatest athletes lose a game here and there.

In fact it is easier to win than to lose.

At a recent birthday party my five-year-old boychik decided to play air hockey against another boy. The other boy had a couple of advantages.
  1. He has a unit at home that he plays all the time.
  2. He has older siblings.
  3. He is taller than my son and consequently has a wingspan that covers allows him to cover the table with greater ease.
He beat my son in three straight games, and did so handily. Each goal was accompanied with cheers for himself. I didn't feel like he was taunting him, he was just acting like another happy five-year-old. However, as the game went on I could see my son beginning to get more frustrated and the cries of "Five to one, Six to one etc" were beginning to wear upon him.

As the buzzer sounded and he lost the third consecutive game he ran away, it was just too much.
It was a hard loss and a hard lesson. It was hard for me too, but I wasn't going to take the easy way out.

Children need to learn how to fail. They need to learn that it is ok not to win every time and that we can learn from our mistakes. It is part of learning coping skills and it makes me crazy when I see parents prevent them from learning this.

After the party my son and I spent a little time talking about how he felt and why it was ok. I explained that the most important part of this lesson is learning from it and why. I also reminded him that I don't like to lose either, but that losing can teach you how to win.

That last line reminded me of some of the hustlers I have known throughout my life. "Losing can teach you how to win" but that is a different post for a different time and place.

In any case, my son and I will continue to have conversations like this. I told him that he probably wouldn't learn to like losing but that it would be easier to just shake it off. I also used this opportunity to explain how and why practicing was so important.

In the end I think that he understood and that is important.


Unknown said...

Very true and I think you're a wise parent for understanding this so acutely. Some parents go too far the other way and teach their kids that winning is the ONLY acceptable outcome.

dorothy rothschild said...

That boychik of yours is a lucky little dude.

It seems to me not unlikely that another kind of parent would have gone squawking to the other kid's parents about why didn't he let my kid win.

stc said...

Good parenting, Jack.

Richmond said...

Good for you. I know grownups who don't know how to lose gracefully...

Ezzie said...

After a few days of not having a chance to read blogs, I thought "Wow, how can I possibly read Jack? It will take me a year to catch up!!"

Then I read this and I remembered why I love to read this blog. :) (There goes the next half-hour...)

Jack Steiner said...

Hi Z,

Thanks. It is a hard lesson, but an important one.

Hi DR,

I know a few parents like that.




It is a hard line to walk, but we do the best that we can.


I don't like losing, in fact there are times when I have been that bad loser. But that doesn't mean that I have to accept it in myself. More importantly I want to help the kids avoid the stupid mistakes I have made.


Thanks, I appreciate it.

Anonymous said...

this comment will probably surprise you because its over a year after it was written. im in high school in parenting skills and had to research a situation, and i chose teaching a child to lose. from what i have learned through this class you are doing a great job as a parent. i cant really say much since i dont have kids of my own but good job dad! your article is going to get me an A+ thanks!

Jack Steiner said...


Happy to be of service.

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