Dear Rabbi Ross,
My son is a big baby. I love him to pieces, but whenever he does not win a game, he gets all teary eyed and starts blaming his teammates and accusing everyone of cheating. I understand this can be normal behavior for a 5-year-old, but he’s turning 12 soon, it’s still happening, and I’m getting a tad nervous. Do you have any suggestions? David – Woodmere
David, I have received many emails with similar questions over the past few months. Coaches and teachers would call this behavior “poor sportsmanship”, while kids refer to it as being a sore loser. Whatever the name, it’s not fun dealing with a 9-year-old sobbing uncontrollably because he’s 100% sure that he was safe at first base. It’s also difficult explaining to your neighbor why your 12-year-old is crying during a fun game of football with younger kids.
There is some good news though. IY”H in a bunch of years, your son will get married and you won’t have to deal with this as much. I’m kidding of course... you’ll still have to deal with it.
Although this is a difficult personality trait to handle, it does have its positive points as well. Significantly, it shows us that your son thrives on competition and has a tremendous drive to succeed. These are trait that can be used to great effect as he grows older and matures.
Before we try and discuss some ideas to deal with this issue, let’s be super proactive. There is nothing wrong with him losing a game as a young child. If you’re playing a game with your toddler, don’t always let him win. Losing properly is a learned behavior, and you need to begin working on this when your children are very young.
Here are some tips to help you through these exasperating moments. Remember that there are no quick fixes to this. It’ll take patience, time, and some more patience.
Here are the proactive tips – what you can do before he gets into a situation.
1) Practice losing with him. Act out scenarios that get him riled up so he can work on correct responses. When he’s in a good mood, give him a scenario that would get him upset. “You’re losing by one run, bases loaded, and you hit a ball and they call it foul, but it wasn’t!”
2) Before he starts playing, remind him that certain things can get him upset and he needs to stay calm no matter what. Preparation is key.
3) Don’t avoid situations because you’re scared he’ll overreact. This is a growing experience, and it’s important that he has the chance to mature.
4) Be a good role model. Getting upset when the Yankees are losing sends him mixed messages. This can be a great way to communicate to him how to react. “That umpire really blew the call, but it’s just a game. You win some and you lose some.”
Here are some situational tips – what you can do during the incidents.
1) Identify any triggers. It could be a sibling, being overtired, or even just having a hard day.
2) Don’t wait until it’s too late. When you see him starting to lose it, get out there and remove him from the situation.
3) Focus on positive behaviors that he exhibits when he’s playing. Comments like “You seemed very upbeat and I was super impressed!”, are excellent.
4) Empathize with his frustrations when he stays in control. It’s OK if he slips a little, but if he’s still in control, you can validate his frustrations. If you see that he’s getting annoyed because he’s losing, you can tell him “Losing can be so frustrating. I’m sure you’ll win a different game.”
Here are some tips when dealing with the aftermath.
1) Make sure that there are immediate consequences to his actions whenever applicable. If he shoves a player or throws the ball away, he must be removed from the game. No explanations.
2) If he quits a game in middle, he should not be able to play the next time the game is set up.
3) Try and change the subject if he’s really upset. This can quickly calm him down.
4) You can certainly compliment or reward him if he stays in control in a difficult situation. Positive reinforcement goes a long way.
It’s important to remember two things. First of all, a lot of this personality is built into specific children. Some children are easy-going and some are not. Having a child who’s a sore loser doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent. Second of all, a great trick is to Daven. It’s that simple. Ask Hashem for help.
Wishing you all continued Nachas from your wonderful children.
Rabbi Yitzie Ross is a Rebbe and has been working with parents and kids for many years. You can read more about him in the "about" section.