Recently, a mother talked to me about helping her son accept losing at games. For children with communication deficits or autism spectrum disorder, the feeling of losing can often make them feel as if their already tenuous ability to exert control over their lives has slipped a little more out of reach. However, if you didn’t have the opportunity to lose, what motivation would you have to sharpen your skills and improve your performance? I believe that it is important to strike a balance between letting a child win and feel successful, and taunting them by performing a victory dance after taking all of their checkers pieces.
I would like to add an important disclaimer: I am still working on accepting the feeling of losing, myself. With every errant stroke of a pool stick, or a bowling ball thumping into the gutter, I feel temporarily emotionally disregulated. And this feeling not only encompasses my own performance, but the vicarious performance of others. Case in point: the losing ways of the Seahawks and Mariners. Even though I have seen both of these teams, in the last few years, lose games in a spectacular fashion, and at an exorbitant rate, I am still affected by their failures. Many professional sources suggest that by losing frequently at games before being successful, children will learn that losing is only a temporary setback on the path to victory. However, I still am upset when my team loses, and I am positively steamed when I lose – and I, as well as my Seattle sports teams, have lost at more games than can be counted.
Here are three methods that I find helpful in getting myself, and perhaps others, to feel better about losing:
1. Sweeten the Losing Pot: Make an “incentive” for losing – maybe the person who loses can pick the next activity, or take the first move in the next game, or pick which color piece they want to be, etc.
2. Model Good Sportsmanship: If you win, say “good game” and give the losing player a high five. If you lose, don’t go on a profanity-filled tirade, but calmly accept the result. I remember seeing my father – a lifelong Cubs fan – once kick a hole in a garbage can following a Chicago loss (this also seemingly downplays the notion that frequent losses make it easier to accept losing).
3. Play Cooperative Games: Who says that life always has to be dog-eat-dog? If you can have the experience of winning or losing with another person, whether as a pair, or as part of a team, the knowledge that another person is feeling either your frustration or exhilaration is a comforting and grounding thought.
Posted by: Andy, Speech-Language Pathologist