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Winning Is Not Everything

Posted Jun 02 2009 4:35pm

When Seth plays a sport he’s never tried before, the boy quickly breaks down into “I’m a loser, everyone is better” mode.

Do I handle these situations correctly? Sort of. While I try to emphasize with Seth, I oftentimes slide into the tough love mode. “Get over it already!”

This was especially true as Seth practiced his golf on the driving range this Saturday. The self-recriminations were quickly boiling to the top:

“Everyone hits the ball farther than me.”

“The ball won’t pop up!”

“I stink at this.”

Now, you need to understand, I’m not a winning-at-all-costs dad. In fact, I’m very low-key about competition considering I didn’t find my sport, cross country, until high school.

And while I was mildly competitive growing up, I didn’t get all that worked up about losing. So I struggle to understand Seth’s attitudes.

Fortunately, the web has a way of reaching out and helping. I woke this morning to an email from Tamar Chansky, a psychologist who wanted me to know about her article discussing children who get worked up over losing.

This line caught my attention:

No one likes to lose, but for some kids losing isn’t a superficial scratch on the ego, it goes deep. In fact the reason why some kids have trouble losing is that they can’t hold on to who they were before the loss; instead, no matter how many successes they had under their belt, the loss transforms them irrevocably into a loser. It’s as if each game is a gamble where they put all their chips on the table, and if they lose, they’re cleaned out of all of their assets.

Ah yes, that’s my son. He reacts much the same if he loses at any video or board game. I’ve worked hard to help him get over this. I explain how we all have to lose repeatedly before we win. I explain that we must learn from our mistakes. I remind Seth to play against himself and not worry about everyone else. (For more coping ideas, read the article.)

Slowly, it’s working. Seth still gets upset, but he now controls his emotions much more quickly. The self-esteem issues are there, but they don’t linger as intensely. Even if Seth never becomes a competitive athlete, these are good skill to learn and will serve him well into adulthood.

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