It is very hard to watch the children you love experience failure, disappointment, and loss in the classroom, in sports, and on the playground, but these occasions present the best opportunities to teach them how to deal with negative emotions. Various coping skills are most easily learned as a child, and best taught by a parent.
Learning to Deal With Failure and Loss is Part of Life
As much as we want to shield our children from unhappy situations, it is important to arm them with the tools they need and will call upon throughout their lives. The problem is that many parents don’t want their children to experience the tough stuff:
- not being chosen
Although we need to encourage age-appropriate experiences and learning for our kids, it is a mistake to demand that all children pass every test, never lose, never hear a teacher or coach or dance instructor say, “No, that’s wrong”; “I’m sorry but we don’t have room for any more players”; “No, I’m afraid you didn’t get the role of Snow White”; “Unfortunately, we lost the game.”
Never losing as children produces adults who are poor sports and who blame others for their failures. We’ve all heard of adults at the extreme end who sink into a depression and even commit suicide after failing or losing at something important.
When a child loses a game, it helps prepare him for losing that big promotion as an adult.
It is no Mystery That Adults Have to Teach Kids How to Lose
Adults must help children put losses, failures, and disappointment into perspective:
- Remind them that losing is no disgrace and top athletes, for example, lose increasingly more public and more important competitions—meet the winner of the school 100 meter race, and you’ve met the loser of the district competition; meet the winner of the district competition and you’ve met the loser of the province or state competition; meet the winner of the province or state competition and you’ve met the loser of the country-wide competition; meet the winner of the country-wide competition and you’ve met the loser of the world competition. All winners lose—a lot!
- Teach them self-control. It’s okay to cry, but wait until you get home. Give them an encouraging hug, and help them analyze what happened after they have calmed down. Remind them that winners acknowledge the people who helped them win (e.g., teammates) and losers don’t blame anyone or anything for the loss. Teach them to be good winners and good losers. It matters.
- Remind them that you love them and are proud of them for trying even when they lose.
- Help them learn from a loss and analyze how they might have done better: Work on your multiplication tables, work on your swing, work on your dancing technique.
- Tell them to try again and try harder even if they never win, are never the best. There is joy in trying, in playing, in learning, and in improving, and that’s what you want them to experience.
Forget about classes with no grades, sports with no scores, and games with no winners or losers. Never losing and never failing at anything is poor preparation for becoming an adult, and empathy for people who lose or fail is never developed. The world is a competitive place, and a child who learns to try hard, has practice at losing and learns to be philosophical about it, is much better prepared to cope with life than one who never learns how to deal with failure and loss.
Let’s Hear From You
If you have any thoughts on this subject that you would like to share, please let us know in the comment section below. You have to use your name and e-mail address, but I will conceal both when I post your comments and will use your initials or a pen name if you prefer.
Something’s Missing, my sports-mystery about children who deal with winning and losing and everything in between, is available at Amazon.com, or at this Amazon.ca link, or at the Kindle Amazon.com site here or the Kindle Amazon.ca site at this link.
Don’t forget to sign up for our monthly recipe newsletter for athletes!
Creative Commons Attribution: Permission is granted to repost this article in its entirety with credit to Maureen Grenier and a clickable link back to this page.