The fear of falling short prevents many kids from giving their all in the first place. So you should explain to your child that setbacks are an essential part of the learning process. When Dr. Taylor's kids, Catie, 6, and Gracie, 4, face hurdles, such as learning to ski or trying to spell simple words, he tells them that the most important thing is to keep plugging away, and that if they do that they'll get there eventually. He repeats this mantra to them: "The only failure is not trying."
Books offer another great opportunity to reinforce the concept of "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again." Children's literature is filled with inspiring examples of underdogs who ultimately prevail, from classics like The Little Engine That Could to Clorinda, about a cow who leaves the farm determined to become a ballerina.
Or you can copy Kristen Sze's idea. Tired of watching her 8-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son shy away from competitive activities because they feared losing, the San Francisco mom made games -- from checkers to soccer -- a mandatory part of their daily routine. "We called it the win/lose contest of the day," explains Sze. Her six-month crash course gave the kids lots of experience with both victory and defeat, which helped lower the stakes. "The experience impressed upon them that they will face wins and losses in life, along with successes and failures. How they deal with them can help them learn and grow. And ultimately, it's not whether they are the best but whether they did their own personal best that's most important."