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This is a good question asked as example on Area51.

I remember when I was a kid I hated to lose, and worse; I would try to cheat to win. I don't remember when or how this attitude changed but I started to hate players who tried to cheat or make the game too serious and don't accept losing.

In my personal opinion, accepting a loss after doing your best has a significant role in every person's life. What are some good games or techniques for helping kids learn to "lose gracefully"?

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Hmm, guess I should've asked it here faster. ;-) –  bwarner Oct 27 '10 at 3:37
    
I agree :-) Sorry Brent. –  bigown Oct 27 '10 at 3:51
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7 Answers

up vote 23 down vote accepted

Well, I personally suffered from this condition for a long time---and still do to some extent.

In my opinion, the ability to lose gracefully is dependent on one's self esteem. It is much easier to shrug off a defeat if your self esteem is secure than when your whole life is a battle for every scrap of validation. With age (I'd say 20+) it does get easier to recognize and control such tendencies in oneself.

Things that help:

  • Playing games where no one loses. There are games that do not employ the competitive aspect of most games. A good game shop should be able to help you find them.
  • Playing games where winning and losing is shared among multiple players. Team based or completely cooperative games.
  • Not rubbing in defeats. Kinda obvious but there it is.
  • Help the child see what they did well. Point out good moves, complement them when they show self restraint during a loss.

Things that don't help:

  • Telling the child they're a bad loser. The child is not going to see it that way. Any insistence on the topic is just gonna piss them off even more. Not only does it rub in the fact that they failed to win the game, but it aggravates the damage by insisting that they also failed at failing to win the game.
  • The amount of self reflection necessary to recognize one has this problem comes only much later in life.
  • Letting the child win. While sometimes effective as a stop gap measure it bears two dangers:
    • Children are quite smart. If they figure out that you've let them win they're gonna be pissed off even more.
    • The child is not going to learn without having to face defeat.
  • Playing more so it can get accustomed to defeat. Without the inner strength to withstand one defeat you can't train someone how to withstand ten of them.

Disclaimer: I'm not a psychologist or child expert - just someone talking from his own experience. Take all of this with a grain of salt.

Final Toughts: In my opinion such behavior - especially if it persists - is only a symptom of an underlying problem. As I said in the beginning, it's a matter of self esteem and that can be heavily eroded over the years even by the smallest things. Do you often have arguments with the sore loser because they're stealing attention from their siblings at social events? Are they by any chance the older or middle child? Are they the less reliable one? If your answer is yes to any of these questions I suggest you go see a professional to determine IF you are unwittingly undermining that child's self esteem. I don't want to paint you a horror picture - I might easily be wrong.

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Great answer. For a list of some cooperative games, see the answers to this question. In reply to your third "thing that doesn't help": I agree, but I think when you see progress, as in, the child is starting to lose gracefully, then it might help to start playing more, to reinforce their newly found comfort in losing. Finally, I think the sword cuts both ways: with low self-esteem, it's hard to lose, but learning to lose gracefully can be a boost to self-esteem as well. –  Erik P. Oct 27 '10 at 16:38
    
Play games that have intermediate goals. Maybe you didn't win the Crown of Erebor, but you did acquire the Scepter of Saint Stephen, and you became President of Botswana. –  Joe Mar 14 at 1:16
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Example is critical. Lose to the child gracefully yourself. Teach them by example to say thanks for the game when they win. (Graceful winning is the flip side of graceful losing, and I always found it much harder to do; I like gloating, dammit. I have to consciously suppress that.) And, importantly, demonstrate that it's to the child's benefit to lose politely. Offer to play again when they lose (or to play something else, or do something else fun) - unless they're handling it badly, in which case go back to work. The lesson is: if you're no fun to play with, you don't get to play as much.

Try playing any fast-play game repeatedly. It makes it easy for you to demonstrate the point; if the child knows you're playing ten in a row for three minutes each, it lowers the stakes and makes it easy to learn the principle. Try (depending on the age of the child) something like Icetowers. (Several other Icehouse games come to mind, but Icetowers is very fast and easy to play, yet hard to win reliably, so it's a good example.) James Ernest of Cheapass games is a good designer for this sort of thing also; try Lightspeed or "Before I Kill You, Mr. Bond" (sadly now "The Totally Renamed Spy Game" due to copyright issues...)

Totally cooperative games may not help, but team games or group cooperative games can. And several-on-one games (Space Crusade?) can be good - but put the child on the team, not the solo slot. (Learning to lose gracefully when one of your team messes up is another key skill anyway.)

Bad losing - in children and adults - should be handled like any other temper tantrum. (We have one aggressive player and bad-tempered loser in our adult group - but he tries to keep himself under control and is great fun to play with, so we let it pass.)

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Here's what I did - though it may be too late for some:

I never, ever just let my son win while he was growing up.

This was not always easy. For a while, for example, I could always count on him to side with his mother when we played A Game of Thrones. It was OK, she was going to win anyhow.

Sometimes, he would score a win - usually in luck based games - and he would be congratulated. But I always told him when he played well, thanked him for the game, and helped him after the game was over by discussing what went wrong and what he might have done better. And I pointed out when he made good moves or decisions, during the game, too.

As a result, he got a lot of practice losing - and what I hoped was a good model for a gracious winner, too. He also got an absolute certain knowledge that when he won, he deserved it. Nobody can take a win away from him by saying, "Well, I just let you win that one," because it simply never happens. So now, when he regularly kicks my butt, he knows he did it legitimately, and he usually models excellent gracious winner behavior for me when he does.

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How old was your son when you played 'A Game of Thrones' ? –  link64 Mar 14 at 3:56
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Neither of my children liked to lose but for very different reasons. I used very different strategies to help each of them through it.

My eldest took losing as an affront. It challenged his self-image. I followed the strategy of "always play my best" and by the time he was 7 or 8, he was beating me of his own accord and taking enormous delight from it. He doesn't mind losing either. I call that a success.

My youngest daughter is less self-confident. Losing confirms her self-image. I try to let her win sometimes (without being obvious about it). As a result, she still loves playing games and is just now starting to win a few games for real. I expect that strategy #1 on child #2 would have put her off playing for life.

Moral: Tailor your strategy for your child's personality.

A last thought: My wife hates to lose and hates playing games as a result. I don't mind losing at all, but I absolutely love winning. My wife doesn't understand the distinction but I made sure that my children do.

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I would say... type of game, number of players, etc... are all factors... but being a "good loser" is a learned trait.

You want to train him to be a good sport? Make sure he plays with respectful people.

Other answers are all and good... but the best way to encourage good behavior is to encourage good atmosphere.

You stick your kid into a Halo server... or you stick your kid into a LAN with other church members. It's going to be obvious which group will encourage better manners.

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Collaborative games (especially Pandemic, since it's quick and easy to teach) come immediately to mind. The thing is, it can teach you how to accept collective failure, but I'm not certain it has a lot to do with losing to another human being (especially a relative, with all the emotional weight they carry) in a child's mind.

I know a grown up (not the most mature person around me, but still) who simply hates to lose, and continually "raises the stakes" orally during a game, so that every opponent ends up in the same competitive over-emotional state. I hate to lose to her... Crucially, she hates the mere idea of collaborative games and generally refuses to join them.

What the question inspires me is that kids are remarkably more prone to learn by example than by drilling. You may want to try having adults (or more mature kids) losing games against him/her and recovering gracefully, showing their joy of having had a good time ostentatiously.

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I'm not sure, but maybe playing games in partnerships or teams would lessen the sting of losing.

Perhaps a mixture of cooperative and competitive games would also help.

Any game where players can exclude an unpleasant player from deals or trading might be effective in letting a child see the consequences. However, it would have to be done very delicately to avoid upsetting the child too much. Some examples with trading and dealing are Settlers of Catan and I'm the Boss.

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