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Our 9-year-old son can really go ballistic upon losing at games — tears of rage, calling family members liars and/or cheats, etc. very intense. As far as we know, he doesn't really do this with his friends, just family (parents and 11-year-old sister), but we're afraid if he ever handles a loss even a fraction as badly with his friends as he does with us, he's not going to keep those friends for long. His reactions have turned a lot of fun family sessions into really horrible experiences for us all and we're becoming wary of participating.

He seems to understand the concept of sportsmanship and is not really prone to being ungracious when he wins.

Is there an age or developmental milestone that we can expect him to reach that will clear this up a lot, or are there things we should be trying? My wife and I both feel like we've modeled gracious losing plenty of times, and neither of us is competitive to the point of adding any pressure on the kids to family game times.

  • 2
    Great question. Unfortunately no answers yet that address how to deal with losing. I haven't tried it, so I'm just leaving this as a comment, but perhaps it'd be constructive to ask your boy half-way through the game if he is enjoying himself (presumably "yes"), and remind him at that point about being a good loser. – Adam May 31 '16 at 19:47
  • This is part of growing up. If you always remain calm he will learn from you. Has he learned this behaviour from someone around him? Or from the television? Discuss this with him "do you think x was nice to y when he lost that game?" I know adults who can't handle losing even at 50 years old! – RedSonja Jun 1 '16 at 13:33
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    Make him swap teams halfway in which there are two teams. So that means he loses and wins at the same time. Eventually social expectations will prevent him from doing it. – Bradman175 Jun 9 '16 at 15:55
  • It can be fairly common in daily life you praise results instead of effort. Take a few minutes to think about all the interactions you have had with him where you praised what he did, and not the effort put into doing it. Try to take the focus off of winning and put the focus on the process. – Jeff.Clark Sep 14 '16 at 16:10
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"Winner Cleans Up" has been a surprisingly effective rule for us. Whoever wins needs to put away the cards/board/ball etc. That takes some of the sting out for the loser and really cuts down on gloating.

The US has a bit of a cultural obsession with winning so creating a rule that actually creates a downside to winning can help creating a more balanced view. At that age kids should play games and sports primarily to have fun and to learn, not to win. There'll be more then enough of this later in life.

There are also games where there is no winner or where you play as a whole family against a non-person. We had a Lord of the Rings board game that worked pretty nicely this way.

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    We've had this rule go sideways during midnight Monopoly sessions. People started to lose interest in the actual game and started trying to lose to avoid cleanup. It depends to what extent you're willing to let that happen. – Carcigenicate May 29 '16 at 22:51
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    @Carcigenicate is that a mistake though, or did you just discover a new way to play moNOpoly? – kingfrito_5005 Aug 17 '17 at 20:55
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    @Carcigenicate wait I'm confused...your saying there was a point where players started out interested in monopoly to begin with!? :P – dsollen Aug 18 '17 at 13:18
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Try to find cooperative games (Red October, Forbidden Island for examples) or purely random games.

In the first case, everyone lose or win together.
In the second case, win or loss are purely random and it's easier to accept. You might have to explain the working of the game beforehand to defuse the anger targeted at the other players, and teach your kid that being angered at luck is quite pointless.

Then you can try role playing games. A couple editors are writing games for your kid's age. I've read Monte Cook's "No Thank You, Evil !", for 5+, it's great. There are also compromise between rpg and board games (paizo pathfinder card game, fantasy flight games' Descent) which can work well.

I forgot another type of game. There is a game called Race for The Galaxy where player compete one against another but have very few interaction : they can't really do anything to "attack" the other players, everyone is building his own empire apart from the others. There is some strategy involved where you can benefit or slightly impede another player, but only if they are trying to benefit from your choices themselves.

  • Even adults find it hard to see when a game is mostly chance and even if they do I don't see it helping them care much less about losing. – hkBst Sep 14 '16 at 7:53
  • @hkBst It helps as it means that you don't loose because of the other player being smarter, but because of bad luck. When that happens it's easier to divert the anger. The anger is more meaningless. Of course, you might have to explain that the game is about chance. You will still have work to do, of course, the goal is to help you solve the problem, not solving it for you. As for adult not seeing that... that's not the point here. – MakorDal Sep 14 '16 at 8:37
  • Here are a few board games that are coop and appropriate for older kids and adults: Forbidden Island, Forbidden Desert, Dead of Winter,Pandemic and Betrayal at house on the hill (as the name suggests, one player eventually betrays the rest, but it is decided at random and not until the end of the game. It is fully cooperative until then.) – kingfrito_5005 Aug 17 '17 at 20:59
  • I find young kids don't really 'get' the difference between skill based and luck based game. To them loosing in a purely luck based game is just as bad as loosing in a skill based game, because they don't comprehend the idea that their actions were not relevant in the later and only comprehend that they 'failed' to win. The moment chlid get's old enough to realize that luck games aren't about skill they usually also lose interest in playing them for the same reason. As such there is rarely a time when they care enough to play a luck game but not enough to be upset by loosing. – dsollen Aug 18 '17 at 13:23
  • @dsollen Your opinion. I know education professionals who use simple card games (I don't know the name in English) to teach fair play to their kids daily so there must be some value to my post. – MakorDal Aug 18 '17 at 13:30
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We had a similar situation where one of our kids reacted very badly when they couldn't win at a new sport or game.

It was additionally complicated because she has always been very good at accomplishing things, and so "not winning" (or "losing") was a new experience and she reacted badly.

We had the talk about everyone playing to have fun, sometimes you have to lose, let's try to be good sports, and so on. It didn't work right away, so we had to perservere and try different things.

Hilmar suggested playing "team" games (with no winners or losers), so may I suggest a similar approach, but completely out of the context of games.

Try some other fun activities for a while... hike in the forest, walk up a mountain, go swimming in a lake. If possible, give them some one-on-one time. And be sure to encourage them to feel how much fun it is to participate in an activity (both during, and after), without anyone necessarily winning or losing.

Questions like "do you remember we hiked up a mountain last week? was that fun!!" can go in the right direction.

After a while, gradually re-introduce the team games / sports / activities.

1

A strategy we implemented in our classroom was to set same outcome for the winner and loser, to initially regulate the overly emotional kids, like after the game was over, the winner and loser both had to put back the balls or cleanup, sometimes we all got involved in cleaning up immediately.

Also avoid more competitive games for the time being as he might feel he is at disadvantage playing with the adults as you mentioned that he is not behaving this way with his friends, or try to let him choose the game to play.

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There are many things you can do to lighten the pain of loosing, as already mentioned, and they should be considered; I particularly like the 'looser clean up' rule. I'll go into some other things that can be done to lessen the depression of losing later, but first let's address the biggest two obvious details.

The truth is the best way to teach a kid to loose graciously is for them to loose, and be forced to be gracious about it. Like many things they simply have to be taught through their, and your, actions. As he looses at games, and sees it's not the end of the world, he will learn that the lose wasn't that important to his life. Eventually he will grow a sense of perspective where he realizes rather he wins or looses a game is not that important a factor in his life and just not worth getting as emotionally invested in. As such one of the biggest things you can do is simply give him oppertunities to lose at low cost and learn that it's okay.

Part of making loosing okay is teaching that your family does not tolerate bad sportmanship, from anyone. If he calls someone liars or rages against people when he loses this is not acceptable and that should be made clear. Anything this extreme likely will require a timeout or other discplinary actions, because he isn't behaving in an acceptable manner and that is not allowed no matter how he feels. This is important to curb the bad sportsmanship itself, but it's also important for teaching him that loosing is okay, as odd as that may seem. Studies have shown that going into rage or sulking about something that upset you only encourages one to keep brooding on the activity and makes them feel worse. If he is allowed to rage when he loses all that raging will make him more upset and encourage further raging later, it's a sort of downward spiral. It's a downward spiral, and as such best to curb as soon as possible before it gets worse, once he stops raging he can then focus on learning bettter methods for coping with a lose.

Of course if he get's discplined it needs to be made clear that it's due to the bad attitude, and not the lose itself.

As to ways to lessen the blow, I actually second cooperative games. he is young, but I have played pandemic with my niece at that age and she could manage the game (though she is both smart and has both a higher interest in, and experience with, more complex board games then most 9 year olds so she may not be a good baseline). Forbiden island (and related games) are a much easier coop game that I think the average 9 year old can manage and enjoy so it could be a good option.

Another option is to stick to short games, especially games played multuple times. If the game is short he wont be as emotionally invested in it by th end, so a lose won't feel as hard. If you play many in a sitting he also will be focused on the future rounds instead of the current ones so loosing one round doesn't feel as bad. Playing games with 'best 2 out of 3' mechanics for instance lowers the pain of the first lose as an example. Playing a card game where multuple hands are played likewise can show that loosing a hand is not the end of the world. But best case is lots of quick games without a set condition to stop, your going to keep doing fast rounds until you get bored and no round really matters much so no one needs to worry about them. Fluxx comes to mind as a game that tends to be fast and allow many rounds to be played in a row, it's a favorite of my mother and I, but there are countless microgames you could pick.

Silly games, where the focus is enjoying the act of playing and winner doesn't matter much, are also a good example of games where he doesn't have to feel as bad about loosing. Many Party games can fit into this catagory, though which games your family approaches with the right degree of 'silly' depends on your family. For examples I have seen people play Apples to Apples both completley seriously and in a hilariously over the top manner, so it could be a great, or bad, game depending on how your family approaches it (though addmittedly the ones that play games for humor often seem to end up more PG-13 in nature). Taboo is another game that can be quite fun to play by itself regardless of who wins. Story creation games, like 'Once Upon a Time' or 'Roys Story Cubes' are also games that can be fun for families and where who actually wins doesn't usually matter; plus they encourage creativity which is a plus in itself.

I'll stop recommending specific games here, but there is a whole stack exchange site for gaming where you can get suggestions for 9 year old appropriate games that fit any of the above catagories I listed if you don't like the specific ones I mentioned.

Another option is to help to give him something to be proud of even in lose. Give him compliments when he does something well, show him when he made an intellegent play, and generally allow him to walk away feeling good about part of his game even if he didn't win. However, Do not give false compliments. A generic "you did good" every time he looses doesn't mean anything, it's an empty platitude and he will know it. Look for oppertunities to give legitimant earned praise and when that happens offer it freely, but make sure he can see the praise is earned so he actually has reason to feel good about it. Focusing on the positive even in a lose is always important!

And of course demonstrating good sportsmanship is important as well. Show him that you and the rest of your family can be graceful in losses and compliment him on a game well played. Praise him when he is a gracious looser and tell him that your proud of him for being mature. Demonstrate the sort of behaviours you want him to emulate, and punish anyone who shows particularly bad behaviors, and he will learn the right way to behave. In the end all the other suggestions to make loosing easier are nice things to do, but simply demonstrating the right and wrong way he is suppose to act on a lose and holding him to those expectations is by far the most important part of molding his behavior. Everything else recommended is just to make the lesson a little less harsh to learn; a spoon full of sugar to make the medicine go down if I remember my Mary Poppins correctly ;)

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