I will start here by saying; I want my kids to be competitive. I want them to work hard, play fair, enjoy the process, celebrate the wins and learn from the losses. This goes for their academics and their athletics.
Teach cooperation first – As children grow, having a cooperative nature helps to curb the ugly side of competition. Between siblings you can give cooperative challenges such as, “let’s see if you can help each other get dressed to beat the timer,” rather than, “let’s see who can get dressed first.” You might plan cooperative projects more often like washing the car together or building an obstacle course together. You can talk about your family as a “team,” or as needing to help each other out as often as possible. Highlight when children are being helpful or cooperating with others.
Introduce games with cooperative effort – There are lots of cooperative effort board games including Snail’s Pace Race (or Caterpillar Crawl, same game), Colorama, Race to the Treasure, Hoot Owl Hoot, Stone Soup, and Feed the Woozle. Cooperative effort games teach the turn taking, rule following and fun aspects of board games without the competitive component. Candy Land can be cooperative (and much shorter) if everyone is working together to move the blue guy to the end. As children get older, there’s Pandemic, Space Alert, Harvest Time and many other cooperative games.
Introduce winning and losing in small ways – By three-and-a-half or four years old, you might introduce small games with winners and losers. This includes tic-tac-toe, rock-paper-scissors and Hulabaloo which each take less than a minute or two to win or lose.
Talk through winning and losing – As you play these games, occasionally talk about what it feels like to win and what it feels like to lose. Brainstorm gracious things they can say or do when they win and good sport things they can say or do when they lose. Avoid letting your child always win, to learn how to be a good sport loser they have to have experiences with losing.
- When your child wins, teach them to shake hands or smile and compliment the other players. This can be as simple as saying, “good game.” Directly curb boasting or any dig at the other players.
- When your child loses, teach him to shake hands or smile and congratulate the other players. Work towards curbing tantrums and visible or loud upsets. It can be most effective to work on this out of the moment thru role play, puppet shows, drawing pictures and asking hypotheticals. There are free workshop on teaching social skills at http://parentingplaygroups.com/MemberResources/index.php/welcome/ .
Gradually play longer games – By four or five years old, move to games like Zingo, Go Fish and Uno that take a few minutes to win or lose. Then move to longer board games, such as Chutes and Ladders or Trouble. All along model, practice and discuss ways to win and lose.
Move to sports – As children can manage winning and losing at board games, you might introduce winning and losing at sports. Again, at three, four or five years old it’s just about learning how to play, how to throw and catch and kick a ball. It’s about learning how to participate in classes and games, and how to listen to a teacher or coach. Actual winning and losing should start small here too. Think relays and races, 5 minute games, not 45 minute games.
Introduce competition – By six, seven or eight years old, many children with this supportive background are ready for competition in bigger sports. They are practiced at winning and losing, and know better how to manage themselves through the process.
Focus on individual skill building, effort, teamwork and progress – During this time and as they move into being competitive in sports, focus on their individual progress and growing skills way more than competition. Highlight their efforts, their hard work, their enjoyment and teamwork all in the positive. Focus children on doing their best, fully participating and giving their all.
Highlight the importance of practice – If your child wants to be better at something, talk about how doing anything better takes practice. Whether it’s improving her swim times or being better at playing the guitar, consistent effort and practice is what gets you there.
Reframe losing as a part of the game – To be able to play you have to learn to manage losing. Losing gives an opportunity to rethink strategies and evaluate skills, and let’s you know what to practice.
Focus on expressing your enjoyment – It might be helpful to start with the end in mind. Here’s a link to a good article that explains that even college players just want to hear, “I love to watch you play” from their parents. http://growingleaders.com/blog/what-parents-should-say-as-their-kids-perform/
Related children’s books
- Winners Never Quit by Hamm
- Berenstain Bears Play a Good Game by Berenstain
- Sally Sore Loser by Sileo
- Howard B Wigglebottom Learns About Sportsmanship by Binkow
- Help Me Be Good Being a Bad Sport by Berry