My 4 year old son and I enjoy playing games. However, whenever I win and he loses, he gets very upset and doesn't want to play anymore. I have tried explaining that he won't always win at everything, practice makes perfect, try your best, etc., but it is clear that I'm not getting the message through to him effectively. What should I do?
It sounds like you already do this, but don't 'let' him win just to avoid the scene, this will create bigger problems later. As you are playing the game (I assume most of the games, if not all, are simple chance) ask him, who do you think will win now. He will then see that the 'winner' goes back and forth through out the game. When he wins narrate your feelings about loosing. (Oh, I wish I won. Oh well, I guess I might win next time. It was a fun game and I am glad I got to have a good time with my son) When he does lose and cries verbalize for him what he is feeling. (I know you are sad because you lost, but at least you got to have a good time. I really enjoyed spending time with you and I can't wait to play again!)
Tell him that you can't play games with people that don't know how to lose, and then if he wants to play a game again that day don't play with him.
The next time he wants to play remind him that he might lose and it isn't fun to play with someone that doesn't know how to lose and win.
I like the first option better but sometimes you have to resort to the second.
A key question is "How often do you play a game that he CAN'T win"?
A lot of dads get competitive, and believe that they're teaching their children "the value of losing gracefully", when they're actually teaching them "Can't beat Dad, because I'm better", which is very frustrating for a child, as there's NOTHING THEY CAN DO.
If you're playing a game where you win more than 50% of the time, it's not actually a fair game. You have every advantage, because he's FOUR. Effectively, you should be handicapping yourself down to the level where you're struggling to win.
As you find he's improving and you're winning less often, you can begin removing the handicaps.
Showing an example by losing gracefully yourself can also really help - and remember to also have the conversation on how to be a magnanimous victor.
Both are key learning experiences that seem to work well by example.
If the game involved a significant component of strategy or skill, as opposed to luck, point out whatever positives you can about his play, both during the game, and once the winner is determined.
Even if the game is purely random, you can still praise him when he loses ("Good game! That was very close... I got lucky at the end!").
Most importantly, don't be critical of his playing. Gloating over a win, even in jest, can set a really bad precedent for competition. Suggesting ways he could improve his play should be done as diplomatically as possible. Emphasize the positives, and avoid mention of negatives ("don't forget that you can always do x" rather than "doing y was a mistake").
Stop focusing on winning and losing. Help him to do that, too. If that's your (and his) focus, then you're both missing the point of the game, which is to have fun.