How do you teach losing gracefully?

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas.We’re still recovering over here — toys still downstairs but at least all the boxes and wrapping paper have been cleaned up.

This was the Christmas of games in our house – board games, mini-foosball and of course family video games for the Wii  like Toy Story Mania and the Mario for four players.

So as we’ve played Connect 4, Battleship, foosball and the others we have found that one little member of our family isn’t a very good loser. There’s quitting when the end result becomes clear, there’s crying, yelling and sometimes pouting.

So the question is: How do you teach a child to lose (and win) gracefully?

28 comments Add your comment


December 28th, 2009
9:49 am

Teach your child to pull for UGA – they’ll get used to the losing.


December 28th, 2009
10:06 am

Most of us really dislike losing – at anything – so the behaviour you describe is quite normal. However, in my humble opinion, you need to nip the acting out in the bud. No matter whether it is a male or female losing, you MUST have them shake hands with the victor, and, even if they do not mean it, they HAVE to congratulate that person, too. Only through this tried and true action will the child ever begin to understand that sportsmanship is just as much a part of the game as the actual playing of the game.

Letting them pout and whine is indicative of some lacking parental skills, and this reflects directly on the parents later in life.

And, remember, too, if you ain’t cheatin’, you ain’t tryin’ – but bad sportsmanship will not be tolerated!!!!!


December 28th, 2009
10:16 am

Well, everyone has a desire to win, no doubt about it! I typically try to explain to my little guy that eventually, everyone will lose at some point in time. You can’t always win. We talk about how someone has to win & lose, it doesn’t make them any less of a person because they lost. I try to focus more on the fun of playing the game. If I lose, I praise him for a good job. If he loses, I praise him for trying his best and encourage him to keep trying. I also try to focus on if there is anything he could learn forom losing (which sometimes there isn’t), and if so, how can he make it better next time!

I also do not play with him if he starts to cheat. All kids will try it. I have to explain that no one likes to play games with people who cheat. It is no fun. If you have to cheat to win, then don’t bother playing.

My little guy will get VERY frustated if he plays a game where he continually loses (one that requires a lot of skill or practice). In this type of situation, I will see if he wants to take a break and suggest a game that he is really good at playing! Then, this allows him a chance to gain some renewed confidence. We don’t stop in the middle of a losing game though!

When he is playing games against us or his brothers, it’s inevitable that he will likely lose a lot. When this happens, I remind him that we are older and have had a lot more practice at playing and that he can learn how to play better by learing from his losing. When he gets better, I am quick to point out, “remember when you didn’t know how to do that? or Look how you did SO much better this time!”


December 28th, 2009
10:31 am

My two sons are big into sports. But I had a similar problem when they were young, for a brief period of time.

I had to nip it in the bud by saying that kids wouldn’t want to play with someone who whined and complained every time they lose. But then, there’s also a wonderful thing called the Internet that I use a lot.

For instance, my sons think that Michael Jordan was th best player in basketball… ever. (I think so too.) But they had this movie called “Space Jam” that they watched, and Michael Jordan didn’t miss a shot during that game. He was like some superhero, or something.

Well, I went to Youtube and let them see excerpts of an actual Bulls game with Jordan playing. Even though the Bulls won, they saw Jordan miss shots. That was confusing to them at first, but I had to tell him that Michael Jordan had a lifetime 49% shooting average. That means that Michael Jordan misses more shots than he makes! And his average actually goes DOWN during the playoffs!

They were stunned! We looked at game film and watched a lot of people that they liked: Kobe Bryant, Michael Vick, Peyton Manning, Paul Pierce (for some strange reason, my eldest son is a Celtic fan) etc. We looked at their stats. We saw them succeed and we watched them fail. And we watched their reaction to failure. And then I tell them this: If you want to really be a champion, you just can’t win like a champion, but you lose like a champion.


December 28th, 2009
11:01 am

Losing isn’t an option. If you have to, I guess it’s better to be graceful, give the other team credit . . . and then work harder so it won’t happen again.


December 28th, 2009
11:18 am

There is no such thing.

Only winning. To except less means your kid will be a failure in life like Michael Twilley.


December 28th, 2009
11:22 am

I agree with lakerat. Keep playing games as much as possible (and athletics), and keep hammering home the fact that every time a game is played there is a winner and a loser or losers. Sure, we ALL want to win and need to try to win, but part of the game is enjoying the process. If you happen to lose, congratulate the winner and be a good sport. Let them know that no one likes a bad sport, whiner or pouter, but people want to play with good sports (even if that person isn’t the best player)! I think what you’re experiencing is pretty normal, but being a graceful loser has to be learned and the earlier in life the better.


December 28th, 2009
11:55 am

And the other side of the coin is to teach your child to be a graceful winner as well! No bragging, put-downs, etc. to the loser of the game is just as important!
Manny, I really like the lesson you taught with researching the stats on the pros and seeing the reality of losing as well as winning!


December 28th, 2009
12:28 pm

HeavyD – if you think winning is the only thing and anything else is a failure, then you failed – your English class. It’s “To accept less…”, not “To except less…” You should go off in the corner now.

David S

December 28th, 2009
12:28 pm

First you might begin by getting the leaders of this country to set a better example for everyone. Whether the banking bailout, the GM aquisition, the stimulus package, or anything else that our government does, every action is intended to help one of their “friends” not have to lose as a result of their poor business planning or the superior performance of their competitor. Just look at how lobbying works in our own congress. The american people are against the health care plan, but instead of working for consensus, the votes of some are bought with stolen money, all so that Obama will not have to face “losing.”

Frankly our entire culture of debt is based on the concept that we should not have to accept our current circumstances but rather spend beyond our means so that we do not have to “lose face” to our families, our neighbors, or even reality itself.

Good luck teaching your kids about losing while the rest of our culture is doing everything possible, no matter how immoral or illegal to keep from losing.


December 28th, 2009
12:33 pm

As long as my kids know how to win and your kids know how the lose, nothing else matters.

David S

December 28th, 2009
12:35 pm

The other problem we face is that our society also panders to the belief that in every situation there is a winner and a loser. That may be the case in a game, but we carry this through to virtually everything else. Just look at television. We cannot have even a basic cooking show these days without a competition in which even the third best chef in the world is considered a loser. In economics, our media and our government make it seem as though in every transaction there is a winner and a loser. Thus the government MUST step in to protect everyone. Of course the truth is that in a TRULY FREE MARKET, the transaction only takes place when both parties feel that they are getting something positive from the transaction. Outsiders may view things differently, but the transaction only matters from the perspective of the traders. When government or other step in and force prices to a certain level, or force the transation by say stealing from one group to give to another against their will, there of course are winners and losers, but that is the doing of government, not the free market or its players.

Until we recognize that people, left to their own devices, can interact in manners that generally are win-win, we are doomed to failure for everyone. That will be an even harder lesson to teach your children.


December 28th, 2009
12:52 pm

I tell my son that the only failure is failure to try. If you try your hardest to win, do everything you can, and come up short, you haven’t failed. But if you fail to try your very best, then you have lost regardless of the final score of the game.

I tell him this, but he doesn’t get it yet. He still whines and moans when he loses. I just keep saying the same thing. Maybe one day he will grasp that concept.

Hey, David S....

December 28th, 2009
1:36 pm

…go back to the political sites of Bookman and Tucker – maybe those over there can make sense of your non-sensical rant – “When government or other step in and force prices to a certain level, or force the transation by say stealing from one group to give to another against their will, there of course are winners and losers, but that is the doing of government, not the free market or its players. Until we recognize that people, left to their own devices, can interact in manners that generally are win-win, we are doomed to failure for everyone”.

What a total bunch of crap – Are Princess Nancy and her sidekick, Harry Reid, your heroes?


December 28th, 2009
1:41 pm

David S. – you’re not trying to be helpful about teaching losing to children. Like “Hey, David S…” said, go to a political blog to do your ranting.


December 28th, 2009
2:45 pm

My brother, at age 48, is THE POOREST Loser on earth. He cannot stand to lose, especially to his sister or children.

We go to play Wii at his house, and he is so competitive, he sets up brackets for us to compete against each other.

If he loses, he pouts. However, it he wins, you would have thought he’d won the million dollar prize. He can talk some smack if he’s a winner. But if he loses, and you say one word to him, you better be prepared for an earful…..

He does not lose gracefully.


December 28th, 2009
9:18 pm

If a kid pouted or whined during a game, they lost their game-playing privileges. Either he was removed from the game immediately, or he was not allowed to play the next game (we are a big game-playing family, so that was a very real promise!) One time, when he was 9, my son, who is EXTREMELY competitive, said a rather rude word rhyming with “witch” under his breath when I cornered his queen in a chess game. I immediately stopped the game, swept the pieces from the board into the box, put it away, and it was six months before I played another chess game with him. (We won’t go into the other discipline he encountered for that slip of the tongue!) He has never used bad language in front of me since. :-)

We have a game-playing family — during a family get-together this weekend, we had three games going on in three different rooms! I think it’s something that you just have to teach over and over again until they get it right — lots of praise when they’re good sports, and consequences when they blow it. Plus, in our family, the WINNER had to clean up the game, which was always a pain in the neck when we played Monopoly!

I always hated the handshake after a game — my husband, refereeing a soccer game, wrote up a young teenager who spit on his hand, offered it to an opponent and muttered “F*ck you”. He was benched for two games. The handshake is almost always a last chance for trash talk, taunting and general muttered curses and observations about ancestors and descendants, unless you have a coach watching it with an eagle eye (and ear).

At the age of your kids, Theresa, this kind of behavior is pretty typical — kids are basically little savages until we teach them otherwise. They just have to learn that you catch more flies with honey. :-)


December 29th, 2009
6:27 am

i like the idea of showing famous players not being perfect. i had the prolem with my daughter…not so much as being a sore loser but thinking she was awful at her game because she couldnt make many baskets…i had to show her that for one thing-the shooters werent the only ones who mattered and also that even the very best shooters didnt make their baskets every single time. she happened to be on a team that was absolutely awesome..went to state etc…and no she didnt make a lot of shots..but she could draw fouls and steal the bakk like no other…unfortunately the shooter is the one who gets the glory…just like the one who takes the ball over the goal line…but i had to make her realize that the shooter couldnt win alone… for board and card games…the only who in the family who gets upset is me lol…i dont really get upset…its just playing phase 10…if i am on phase 2 and everyone else is at 8 or above i usually bow out of the game…i dont get mad…i just am not a game player and there are other things to do lol…i would not do this when the kids were young….now they are grown i do.

as far as wondering how you can teach your kid good game manners in a no manner world we live in…you just teach them…you dont let them get away with bad game manners and you never let them use the uinderhanded stuff you hear happening in the world as an excuse. never. i dont care if so and so pitched a fit on the tennis court-or so and so company lost their ‘game’ and got bailed out..thats not how it works in this family—-you cant use that excuse-as a child or as an adult.

and yes i always hates the after game handshake…it can be humiliating to the losing team when the winning team hasnt been taught how to win with manners…and it is a perfect time for mean players to say really mean things to the other team…winners or losers…ive see that a lot…

yall have a great day!


December 29th, 2009
6:32 am

and yes…when a kid has bad game manners whethers its being a bad loser or winner or trying tocheat they are out of the game for a while…not tolerated.

sorry for all the typos..


December 29th, 2009
8:44 am

We started out playing board games in teams, that way, there was a winning team and a losing team, not individuals, plus the games goes a lot quicker. Everyone cleaned up and all got a treat. No gloating.


December 29th, 2009
9:59 am

My kids will keep beating your kids in everything, and we will keep laughing at them as they cry. (even as adults) The world will be perfectly balanced, with my kids (the winners every time) and your kids. (the losers every time)
Keep up that sucessful, wimpy parenting.

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

December 29th, 2009
10:39 am

We just played Battleship and the child lost very well. I tried to praise the child for good play and for good losing. We’ll play some more later.


December 29th, 2009
11:36 am

Jane, thanks for beating me to showing Heavy D how ignorant he is. I will graciously admit defeat and congratulate you on your put down. Furthermore, you did so sparing Heavy D a real verbal thrashing which would have been satisfying and thoroughly deserved. This measured response shows exactly the behaviour that one should aspire to-assertiveness with respect. Shaggy obviously has some issues if they laugh at losers and takes pleasure in this, as well as the fact that they encourage similar comportment in their offspring. I hope they feel more complete as an adult one day. Finally, Devil Dog, “losing isn’t an option.” As an attitude, this isn’t realistic but the icons of our time, as well as the movie industry, purport this is the only modus operandi. You telling me you haven’t lost at something? Dare I say it, as a non-American, (watch the xenophobes leap into action now) this is a particular trait of your nation. Children are constantly exposed to this culture all the way through school….the generic use of the word “loser”, in all its forms, emanated from your country. High school students are constantly grouped into categories etc.

So to sum up, you teach a child ho to win and lose gracefully (for it should be both) by example, both your own as well as using that of others, literature (try Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If” and Desiderata by Max Ehrmann) and by censuring behaviour that isn’t appropriate. At a pre-season session with one of the teams I coach, we watched a senior team play. It was one sided-showboating on one side and pouting on the other. We walked our team back to the dressing room and asked them what they saw. We had mixed responses but the message from the coaching staff was clear-behave like either the winners or the losers of the spectacle we just saw, and you’ll find yourself on the bench. In the words of Kipling-”If you can meet with triumph and disaster, and treat those two impostors just the same.”


December 29th, 2009
12:37 pm

The pussification of America continues


December 29th, 2009
7:41 pm


Too many children today are hooked on electronic games where social graces are long lost. Playing a game by yourself and always winning or quitting if you do not win, leaves out important lessons.

Show me a child who can plan a game diligently, while following directions and being a good sport and you will also find an elementary school student who can get along well in a group. One would hope this will transfer to teens and adults.

We also play board games frequently at out house, as a family, and have enjoyed the comraderie ( sp?) and team work. We typically get a new game each year.

I personally detest sore losers or gloating winners. We do not really tolerate it in our house. I sat next to a 45 year old father, of a Kindergartener, on a plane once who told me they play lots of games but always let the son win as he was a sore loser…WHAT?

Does this mean if I whine a lot about anything, I will not have to do it? I don’t think so. Winning and losing is a part of life. I jokingly tell teachers that I was not the homecoming queen and yet I am usually a successful adult. Aspiring to win is a good thing but reality sometimes sets it.

Competition has it’s place but everyone cannot always win.

A good balance of winning and losing is important. If you just win all the time, you won’t get anything out of it; having some tough losses can be really important.
Andrew Shue


December 30th, 2009
2:28 pm

Jason – you’re the perfect example of that. Thank-you.


January 2nd, 2010
2:30 pm

People who have trouble with losing (or winning) are sent on to bed early. Obviously they are overtired. A few times of being put to bed while the rest of the family plays nips in the bud the overt expressions of anger, gloating, etc. It doesn’t make the losing any easier (only experience helps that) but it does establish rules of play that will be followed. It is like any other behavior you want to extinguish–take the “profit” out of it–loss of attention and being sent to bed work wonders in a short time. Likewise, petting, wheedling, trying to “explain”, trying to cheer up the loser, letting him win the next game–all these things reinforce the behavior. He may never like being bested, but he can learn how to put on his game face and try even harder the next time. And, when he finally does beat his older sister, think how sweet it will be!


January 2nd, 2010
2:31 pm

I am assuming from what I have read before that this is Walsh that is having this problem, and not Michael?