This excellent question appeared recently on the ParentsNet discussion board:
I have a 5 year old who is, typically, into playing games (card games, clue, parcheesi etc.). She plays with her friends and us, her parents. When I play with her, I don’t try to win, nor do I try to lose, figuring that she will win some and lose some. Which is how it happens. Twice now though, she has reacted to losing in a negative way. The first time, she kicked the Clue board, threw the pieces across the carpet and was very very mad. After briefly explaining that she was being a poor loser and all that entails, I suggested she head upstairs for some quiet time. Today, she lost at Snap and she snapped. I reacted by reminding her that losing is part of playing and she wasn’t losing well and that we wouldn’t be playing any more games today but we could try again tomorrow. She got really really mad, I got lots of evil eyes and sour looks. While I can empathize how hard it is to lose at the age of 5, I’m wondering if there’s anything else I should be doing or saying to discourage the bad losing? Kitty, what are your recommendations on this topic?
Some day you may appreciate the humor in the picture you’ve painted – Clue board and pieces flying – but I’m sure in the moment it’s a very unpleasant scene. It’s a good reminder for parents that kids at 5 years of age are likely to be going through a highly competitve stage. For one thing, it’s somewhat new for them to understand the complexities and rules of playing games any more sophisticated than bingo and then on top of that, we ask them to be a good loser. This usually reaches beyond their scope.
I think you handled the situation very well, telling her there won’t be any more games today but we can try again tomorrow. Gradually, in an effort to keep the games going, she’ll at least lower the level of steam when she loses, though for a while her disappointment may feel profound to her.
As time goes on, I bet you’ll observe her being able to look back and say …well, at least I won last time (and eventually) …maybe next time I’ll win!
A long time from now, you may even hear “Good for you, mom!”