Spoiler alert: I don’t have this all figured out.
Like most things in parenting, this is one of those things where you try and fail many times.
Our eight-year-old son loves competition, whether it be soccer, video games, or basketball. Actually, let me rephrase that. He’s VERY competitive. He’s good at most of these things, but he absolutely hates to lose. I don’t know many people who actually like to lose, but he really doesn’t. He’s very vocal when the games don’t go the way he’d like, usually with a raised voice, fussing, and crying. Emotional outbursts are pretty common here after losses. Our 12-year-old was different at this age. If his team lost a game, he was just happy to have played that day. But even he has weighed in during these times, telling his brother “stop raging!” The word “rage” may be a slight exaggeration, but it is an observation from the more reserved child nonetheless. (All kids aren’t the same, though. I hear you.)
From my perspective on the sideline, I am concerned about how he will be labeled in the future. He’s a friend to everyone; he obeys his teachers. But will he be one that nobody wants on their team because he has such big emotions? Do these make him a bad teammate? I’ve talked to teacher friends who’ve seen it all before and say it’s likely just his age. But I’d be dishonest if I didn’t admit that I wonder how it reflects on me as a parent. Once again, that thought process tends to come with the parenting territory, but we should not allow it to lead or guide our parenting. We are not our children. I have to remind myself of this daily.
Here’s the part where you’d probably normally see the “steps” for parenting your competitive, emotional child. Like I said in the beginning, I don’t have this all figured out. I don’t have all the steps. However, I do have a few good places to start because I feel like I keep having to start over with this.
Start with Their Heart
There’s a Bible verse in the book of Matthew that says “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” And even if you aren’t spiritual or don’t read the Bible, you know that emotions are developed from deep within. If you feel something deep down in your heart, you will express it with fervency. In our case, not winning the game or not being the primary play-maker elicits many big emotions. But, should it? We’ve had many conversations about how winning is good but isn’t always going to happen. In fact, losing may happen more often. We have tried to steer his heart towards the joy of playing the game, rather than having to be the winner of the game. We’re still working on this.
Your Child Isn’t the First/Only
No matter how much anyone tells me he isn’t the first child to be emotional about losing, I will always think our situation is the worst and all eyes are on me. Maybe the eyes are on me, but I’ve come to realize those eyes could be saying “I’ve been there.” Many have been there. Many are still there. We’re all doing it together. That’s not to say that people aren’t judging us based on the actions of our child, though. There probably are some people doing that and it’s not fair. Yet, they don’t live in our house and can’t live in our head. In conversation with another parent about being judged as a parent, she said, “I hope people understand that parents don’t have mind control over their kids!” Of course it would make things easier if we did, right? Maybe not in the long run.
Talk to Your Friends
This one goes along with “Your Child Isn’t the First.” We have friends with older children who were the same as our youngest. They give me hope! According to my wonderful friends, this is a phase that children tend to grow out of. The emotional outbursts die but their passion for competition remains. One friend recommended getting a book we could read together. We bought the book Sally Sore Loser: A Story About Winning and Losing by Frank J. Sileo, PhD. The title wasn’t very appealing to an eight-year-old boy, but we were both surprised to see similar discussions in the book as those we’ve had together (and those mentioned above). Isn’t it great to learn that you did something right in parenting?!
Another parent said, “All we can do is be their life coaches! It’s so hard—this parenting thing, isn’t it? Personally, I think you are doing a great job just because you care and are trying!” Let’s all keep caring, trying, and encouraging one another!
If you’re looking for actual steps, Dr. Frank Sileo is a licensed psychologist. His book, Sally Sore Loser: A Story About Winning and Losing lists several suggestions on nurturing good sportsmanship in children. He’s written 11 other children’s picture books on a variety of subjects. He’s the actual expert. And I’m always happy to have expert advice in this parenting journey.