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How to Respond When Children Become Upset Over Losing a Game

How to Respond When Children Become Upset Over Losing a Game


One of the most difficult hurdles for parents is understanding how to effectively respond when children become upset over losing a game. Playing games is an important part of learning, family fun, and making memories together. However, for each game there is typically just one winner. When a child loses a game, it can bring on feelings of frustration, anger, and resentment. This reaction not only has the potential to turn game playing into a sour experience, but it may begin a cycle in which you and/or your child avoid playing games altogether.

To help avoid hurt feelings and game playing stress, here are some strategies for responding when your child becomes upset over losing a game so that it’s more enjoyable for everyone!

1. Pre-Game Preparation

Just as you might prepare your child for a new experience or going somewhere unfamiliar, it’s beneficial to prepare them before playing a game. You can use the time while setting up the game to remind them that someone will win and others will lose, but that the fun is in the playing. This gives parents an opportunity to set a positive tone before playing while also allowing them to reinforce to children that games have unpredictable outcomes for all players.

2. Validate, but Don’t Reward, Feelings

It’s understandable that children would feel disappointed and upset over losing a game. Therefore, parents should resist chastising or belittling their children for these feelings. Instead, it’s better to validate how your child feels by indicating that you understand that it’s frustrating to lose a game and reinforcing that they may be the winner during the next round of play. However, it’s essential that parents don’t reward their child’s upset behavior over losing a game by changing the outcome or compensating with a treat of some kind. Such rewards will make the behavior much more likely to reappear and even intensify.

3. Let Them Win, Sparingly

It’s natural for parents to want their children to win every game and see the look of joy that brings. Unfortunately, consistently letting children win establishes the expectation that they can’t lose. This presents an unrealistic world view that can’t be maintained, leading to even more disappointment and frustration in the future. However, letting your child win a game can be beneficial very occasionally. This may be advisable if they are overtired, feeling unwell, or have had a long run of bad luck.

4. Reverse Roles

Though this may seem counterintuitive, another strategy to help your child learn to cope with losing a game is to allow them to “console” you as a parent when you lose. The idea here is not to behave in a childish manner as a means of mocking or imitating their reaction to losing, as this would feel confusing and demeaning. Instead, if you lose while playing a game, you can mention that you feel frustrated, unhappy, and upset. If your child doesn’t offer you comfort right away, you can ask them if they have any suggestions for how you can feel better.

This role reversal, with you being the losing party and asking your child for consolation, gives them a chance to develop empathy in the situation. They will understand that their own feelings in response to losing a game can be universal, and even apply to adults. Make sure to reward and empower them for their empathy and comfort by sincerely thanking them and showing that you feel better due to their support. You can remind your child in the future of how they helped you with a loss and explain that they can take a moment to console and comfort themselves as well.

5. Model Being a Good Loser—and a Good Winner

Children take many of their emotional response cues from those around them, especially parents and siblings. If parents and/or siblings model poor sportsmanship in response to losing a game, children are likely to react in the same manner. Therefore, it’s important to establish game “etiquette” before playing so that all players can model losing gracefully. Discouraged behaviors may include stomping, calling names, throwing objects, and so on.

It’s equally important for family members to model being a good winner as being a good loser. Being humble and gracious when winning a game is far more becoming than rubbing victory in the faces of other players. This makes it more enjoyable for everyone and can certainly ease the disappointment for players who haven’t won the game.

Of course, many children outgrow being a “sore loser” and learn to accept that games are simply for fun, with an outcome that is often left up to chance. In addition, supporting a healthy attitude towards competition is beneficial in many ways for children. However, when your child becomes upset over losing a game, it’s better not to ignore this behavior or wait for it to go away with maturity. Addressing your child’s feelings and behavior in the moment will reassure them that you care about them and support their growth.

Ultimately, it’s important that children play games for the learning and enjoyment they provide. Part of childhood development is also understanding how to cope with unexpected outcomes, such as losing a game. Parents can use effective strategies to respond to children who become upset over losing a game, thereby increasing the fun for everyone. The thoughtfully designed and unique games offered by Cognisprings allow children and their families opportunities for togetherness, developing life skills, and creating joyful memories.