It can be hard to find the right words to say when your child looks up at you with those big, disappointed eyes after losing the game. You might not be the coach of the team but as his parent, you are coaching your child through life, and what you say matters.
There’s nothing quite like the pride you feel as you sit in the bleachers, watching one of the people you love most in the world take the winning shot. As the crowd around you cheers, and the rest of the team congratulate your child, your heart is fit to burst. But what about the days when your child’s team don’t get to take the trophy home?
Not all sports games end in glory, and you may find yourself searching for the right words to say to your disappointed child after a losing game. It might not surprise you to hear that what you say is really important. Your child looks up to you, and, even though he may not always act like it, your opinion really matters to him. And what you say after a losing game, is at least as important as what you say after a winning game, maybe even more so.
So if you need some ideas on how to help your child cope with the disappointment that comes with losing, here are some angles you could try:
1. Great game!
Ok, they didn’t win, but that’s not all that’s important. Sports are about health, fitness, confidence building, teamwork, and a zillion other life skills that your kid is benefiting from thanks to this love of sports. He might not have won, but hopefully he still enjoyed the chance to play. As the parent, it’s your job to make sure your kid knows you love watching him play whether he wins or loses.
2. I saw you…
Your child might not be polishing the trophy right now, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t play a good game. Think about the things you usually congratulate him on – the difficult tackles, the excellent teamwork, and the way he holds himself on the pitch – and talk about those. Sports really isn’t all about winning, and how he plays in a game is just as important as the final score.
3. Good effort!
This is a phrase that is useful during winning games too. Instead of focusing on the final result, your praise should focus on the effort that went into the game. It doesn’t matter whether his team won or lost, what matters is that he tried his best, so make sure that is what you focus on when you congratulate him for the game. This is a useful phrase to use at other times too, because it will reinforce the belief that the outcome isn’t the most important thing, it’s the effort that really counts.
4. You seem disappointed
This is an important point. It’s ok to feel disappointed. It’s ok to feel frustrated and angry, too. Your child can’t help how he feels. Try not to dismiss his feelings by telling him to suck it up, or that he’s not showing very good sportsmanship. Instead, talk about how he is feeling. If he tells you he’s annoyed, paraphrase it back to him. This technique helps him feel heard, and is an important tool in helping him manage his emotions.
5. Let’s go and…
Whatever it is you usually do after a winning game – grab lunch at a pancake house, head out for ice-cream, or just veg in front of a movie – do it. Keeping your after game routine the same can help to reinforce the belief that it doesn’t matter if you win or lose. After a few hours of quality time with you, your kid will probably be feeling much better. If you only take your kid for pancakes after a winning game, it will reinforce the idea that losing is rubbish, and may even leave him questioning whether he is being punished for losing.