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Playing With Grace

Teaching Your Child Optimism By Showing Him How To Be a Good Loser

Loss is a natural part of life, but children who are taught that loss is terrible and traumatic, rather than normal and natural, are ill prepared to cope with it. Conventional wisdom says that being a loser is bad and parents must protect their children from losing at all costs.

To help your child become a "good loser," think of it as a process that begins when you model a positive attitude about experiences in life, regardless of what those experiences are. All events are neutral, and it's how you view them that gives them meaning. In essence, helping your child become a good loser means helping him to approach life from an optimistic point-of-view: What can be learned from loss, and how can that learning benefit him?

Help Your Child Develop Resilience.

Children learn resilience – the ability to cope with what life brings – when they live in a safe, nurturing environment in which parents and other caregivers model resilience, acknowledge individual difference, treat them with empathy and compassion and set fair and reasonable rules. As we show in our book, Discipline Without Shouting or Spanking (Meadowbrook, 2002), discipline teaches children how to behave appropriately rather than simply punishing away inappropriate behavior.

Teach the Meaning of "No!"

When your child continues to beg for something when you've already said "no," giving in will only teach her that "no" really means "yes" when pressure is applied. In Getting Your Child From No! to Yes! (Meadowbrook, 2004), we show parents how to withstand the pressure their children can exert and move them from negative to positive outcomes.

Praise Effort Rather Than Outcome.

Praising children for making the winning goal, making an A grade or being beautiful or handsome teaches them that the goal is more important than the effort made to reach the goal. Restrict your praise to the effort that leads to success so that they learn to work hard and give their best effort regardless of outcome.

Encourage Your Child's Empathy.

Helping children use their natural empathy to understand others and how others feel will help them cope with their own losses. For example, they cope better if they've tried to understand how the other team feels when they lose. In 20 Teachable Virtues (Perigee, 1995), we show ways for parents to teach empathy, as well as other lessons of character, to their children.

Teach Children to Help Others.

Children who become helpers learn to give of themselves rather than expect others to give to them. Their goal is to help others "win" or reach their goals, instead of thinking about whether they always get what they want.

Show Children How to Earn Privileges and Things They Want.

Children who don't get the things they want think of themselves as losers. Those children who earn things they want learn to delay gratification, to set long-term goals and to consider the effort it takes to reach goals. In Discipline Without Shouting or Spanking, we show parents how to help their young children set goals and work to reach their goals instead of tantruming, whining and demanding to get what they want.

Focus on the Future Rather Than the Past.

Teaching children that what's past is past and in the future lies hope to do better eases the disappointment of loss and encourages an optimistic outlook on life.

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