How to Help Kids Learn From Losing

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Every parent wants to see their child succeed, and the idea of watching them struggle with the disappointment of loss can be a challenging experience for most parents. In an effort to avoid this experience, some teams choose not to keep score. While we joke about the everyone-gets-a-trophy mindset, there is value in focusing on developing solid sports skills, emphasizing fun, cooperation and sportsmanship, and encouraging less focus on winning or losing. However, the values of sport participation include learning to set goals, working hard, risking 100 percent effort, and managing disappointment. Here are some ways adults can help young ones navigate loss with skill.

Help them learn from the experience. Developing a habit of reflecting on what you did well and what areas need improvement after any performance help to create a platform for continual learning and growth. Maybe there is a need to spend more time at practice, work a bit harder or manage distractions. Remember, loss does not equal failure. Children should not be consumed by loss, but you don’t want them to just brush it off either. The experience of a big loss can sometimes be used as motivation for future effort and success.

Provide appropriate feedback. This includes both praise and constructive criticism. When young people are provided inappropriate praise or only positive feedback, they do not receive the message that there are areas where improvement is needed. This can contribute to the longterm consequence of lack of responsibility and accountability.

Model behaviors you want them to display. Parent behavior in youth sports can be one of the greatest champions and greatest disgraces. Take a look at how you manage failure and disappointment in your own life: What are the unspoken messages you send to young ones about losing? And remember, actions speak volumes, despite the words you choose.

Disappointment is a part of life, and many of the skills needed for resilience and success are learned as we pick ourselves up and try again. Unfortunately, many parents — and their young ones — are so terrified by the thought of failing that they can miss the opportunity to learn those lessons, either on or off the court.

Nyaka NiiLampti is a psychologist at Southeast Psych and teaches at Queens University.