Sore loser?

Start a family game night to teach your child the art of losing gracefully.

Learning Stages

By Melissa Catalano


Melissa Catalano is a schoolteacher and runs My Play Place, a play-based parent-participation toddler program where kids learn, create and socialize in a fun and safe setting. She holds a B.A. in Human Biology and an M.A. in Education from Stanford University. In a day filled with teaching and running a business, parenting is the job that still provides the most challenges and rewards.

“Race you to the car!” I holler at my little one as I start my arms pumping. I don’t do it for the exercise. I want to leave the park without stopping at every pebble on the path! Once my child takes the bait and starts running, I start that funny up and down run that gets me to the car just a second after my child. Then I put on a show about how fast he is and how wiped out I am by the effort it took me to keep up. Mission accomplished…child in car, child feels good, no nagging!

As parents, we do little things like this to make sure our kids feel like winners every day. There comes a point, though, when a child has to learn how to lose. No one likes to lose, but it can be especially true for preschool-aged children. They work so hard trying to master new skills, losing does not fit into their view of themselves in the world.

Helping kids learn how to lose

So how do we teach our kids to be gracious winners and losers? I think it starts with board games. Humor me while I list all of the benefits of playing board games as a family…togetherness, turn-taking, number recognition, one-to-one correspondence (necessary for moving the playing pieces around the board), directionality, following rules…I could go on and on. But it’s also a great way to learn how to lose. Losing doesn’t feel good, and for most kids, understanding that feeling takes some practice. Ultimately they will realize that no matter how bad it feels, the bad feeling goes away.

When moms and dads play board games with their children, they model how to wait their turn, follow the rules, and most importantly, how to act when winning or losing. The adult doesn’t gloat or pout. The adult congratulates others. The adult is a gracious winner or loser.

When my older child was going through a particularly rough patch with being a sore loser, I would have a little pep talk before playing any game. It would go something like this, “Okay, I’ll play with you. You might win or I might win. Either way we’ll have fun. If I lose I’ll say ‘good game’ and I’ll try not to be mad. Can you do that too?” I also made sure that we played games of chance rather than games of skill.

Choosing games for your child

A competitive kid will want to play again immediately for another chance to WIN. Others kids will want to overturn the board and never see the game again. You know your child best. Playing games in teams can smooth the sting of losing. And quick games are great because losing after only five minutes of play hurts a lot less than losing after half an hour. Quick games also offer the opportunity to play again with lots of chances to win and lose.

Candy Land, Chutes and Ladders and Hi Ho Cherry-O were all favorites at my house. My kids also enjoyed Crazy Eights and Old Maid, with cards face up on the table. Holding cards fanned out is tough for little hands.

Family Game Night is a great idea for families with preschoolers. I’d recommend starting with a quick half hour or so. Form teams and keep it light. Model being positive. If you already have Family Game Night at your house, share your experiences and ideas.

Have fun!