Quitting because he's behind, yelling because he didn't win or getting angry at you for winning are all signs your child is a sore loser.
Being a sore loser isn't likely to do your child any favors. After all, no one wants to play with the kid who cheats because he's losing or the one who always quits in a half way through a game.
It's common for kids to struggle to maintain a positive attitude while losing at their favorite game. But if your child tens to be a sore loser all the time, or his poor sportsmanship is causing problems for him, it's important to intervene.
Keep in mind that it's normal for preschoolers to make up their own rules as they play. There's no need to worry about winning or losing at this age. But by grade school, your child should be learning skills to help him become a good sport.
There are several things you can do to help your child be a more graceful loser while also showing him how to cheer others on, even if doesn't win.
- Praise Your Child’s Efforts
If you praise your child for scoring the most goals in the soccer game or for getting the highest grade on his math test, your words will fuel his competitive nature. He may learn that winning or being the best is more important than kindness.
Praise him for his hard work and his effort regardless of the final outcome. Instead of saying, “You’re the fastest runner on the team,” say, “I like the way you cheered for the other kids today.” Point out good sportsmanship and emphasize the importance of treating others respectfully.
- Role Model Good Sportsmanship
If you’re yelling at the referees from the stands at your child’s soccer game or you engage in a major victory dance every time you beat out your competition, your child will pick up on your habits.
Role model good sportsmanship by cheering on the players for doing well and by congratulating the winner, even if it wasn't who you were rooting for. Show your child how to treat other people kindly, no matter the score.
Acknowledge that the officials may make calls that not everyone will like. But, talk about how that is part of the game.
- Help Your Child Understand Feelings
When kids can identify their feelings of sadness, anger, disappointment, and frustration, they’re less likely to act them out. Teach your child about feelings and help him develop healthy coping strategies to deal with those feelings.
Validate his feelings too. Talk about how it feels sad, embarrassing, and disappointing to lose. But make it clear he has options in how he deals with his uncomfortable emotions.
- Teach Your Child Anger Management Skills
Sore losers often throw board game pieces or say mean things to other people in a fit of rage. Help your child recognize that these types of behaviors aren’t acceptable.
Teach him that feeling angry is okay but hurting people or property isn’t okay. Invest time and energy into teaching your child specific anger management skills that will help him tolerate losing.
- Don't Let Your Child Win
It can be tempting sometimes to throw the game on purpose so you won't be subjected to a sore loser's negative reaction. Although preventing a meltdown can help you in the short-term, over the long haul you won’t be doing your child any favors.
While you don’t need to be brutally competitive, avoid losing on purpose to spare your child’s feelings. Letting her win will only reinforce to her that she can't handle losing. Each loss is an opportunity for her to practice not being a sore loser.
- Ignore Temper Tantrums
If your child begins to cry, stomp his feet, or throw himself to the ground, ignore it. Ignoring temper tantrums will sometimes make them worse at first, but eventually, your child will grow bored when he sees he doesn’t have an audience.
Avoid consoling him or talking to him when he's misbehaving. As soon as he is calm, give him positive attention again.
- Practice Being a Graceful Winner
Sore losers usually aren’t graceful winners. When they beat their opponent, they tend to find great joy in rubbing it in and bragging about their victory.
Teach your child how to show kindness to others by shaking hands and saying, “Good game” to an opponent or by saying, “Thank you for playing with me.” Help your child focus on the fun he had playing the game, not who won or lost.
Keep Practicing Social Skills
You may need to play board games or sports more often with your child simply to give him an opportunity to practice his social skills. Praise him when he is kind and respectful and emphasize that you value how he treats others more than how he plays the game.
After each game or event, talk about his sportsmanship. Point out what he did well and discuss any concerns. With consistent practice, your child can learn how to be a good sport.