Kids Who Just Gotta Win

How to Raise a Good Sport

Despite your best efforts, your child may still become hypercompetitive. If that's the case, here's how to tone down his attitude.

Play by the rules. When you're competing against your child in a game of Boggle or a swimming race, use the opportunity to teach him how to win -- and lose -- graciously. While it's tempting to throw the game, doing so will cause him to devalue his victories. Don't let him bend the rules, either, though there's nothing wrong with adapting a game to help your child develop his skills. If you're playing Ping-Pong, you might give your child an extra serve when he first starts playing. As long as you agree on any rule changes at the beginning, it's fair play.

Help her set goals. Encourage your child to compete against herself, not others. Ask how many dribbles she can do in 60 seconds or how many tennis shots she can hit in a row. This will give her the satisfaction of seeing real progress and might curb her intensity when she plays against others.

Switch activities. If your child takes winning too seriously, look for activities that emphasize skill-building over scorekeeping, such as martial arts, bicycling, and dancing.

Don't tolerate poor sportsmanship. Teach your child to control his emotions whether he loses or wins, and be ready with consequences when he doesn't. Gena Zehner, of Baltimore, puts her 7-year-old son, Dakota, in the "penalty box" when he throws a fit about losing a board game. "He's slowly learned that it's okay to lose sometimes," says Zehner. A winner who gloats is just as bad. Some sports leagues require a postgame lineup where opposing teammates high-five each other. Institute the same no-gloating policy at home: A heartfelt "good game" should be the ritual ending to any competition. The point is to make good sportsmanship part of the rules for every game.

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