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Sore Loser Strategies

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Your preschooler has a tantrum because he's lost a game of Chutes and Ladders. Should you have let him win? Not necessarily, says Lori Evans, Ph.D., a child and adolescent psychologist at the New York University Child Study Center. While it's fine to let your child win occasionally, there are valuable lessons to be learned from losing, says Dr. Evans, who offers these tips.

Avoid drama. In a no-nonsense, calm voice, tell your child: "That's not how we act when we lose. We'll put the pieces back in the box and try playing this again another day."

Model good sportsmanship. Children learn the most from how their parents behave. You can say, "I'm a little upset that I lost, but I can try again next time." The message: It's okay to feel bad, but there are other ways of expressing one's feelings.

Take the focus off winning. Compliment your child on how she played the game. When you watch sports together, praise opposing players if they deserve it. ("He hit that ball well.")

Teach strategy. As your child graduates to games that require strategy, help him learn from his mistakes. ("Remember when you played tic-tac-toe and Dad took that center space? You take that space this time and see what happens.")

By the end of kindergarten, your child should grow out of her sore-loser behavior. Of course, there will be setbacks, but this is the age when kids should be learning to cooperate with each other, says Dr. Evans. "Teaching your child to lose gracefully teaches a bigger lesson in life," she says: Knowing how to bounce back from adversity is what makes a winner.

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Copyright © 2003. Reprinted with permission from the June/July 2003 issue of Child magazine.