18 answers

My 4 Year Old Is a Sore Looser

My daughter loves to play games. We'll play cards, Candyland, Memory, puzzles... I try as much as possible to keep our tv off. My issue is with her graciousness, or lack of, when loosing. There is a rare chance I will let her win. If it's a close game, I'll fudge it a bit so she can win without realizing I just handed her a victory. She's fun and a sweet opponent during play, for instance in Snap, if a player is out of cards she will give them some of hers. BUT, when she looses, it's a crying, sobbing, tearful, body-on-the-floor and by golly, she was supposed to win fit. I try to tell her about being a good sport, how she is still learning skills of strategy. If she always won, it wouldn't be fun or challenging for her. How can I convince her that loosing is not all that bad when to her it's the end of her world???

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My daughter was the same way at the same age. My husband and I started cutting her off, right before she had her little fit, to say "Thank you for letting me win. That is so nice of you!" In the beginning she had this puzzled look on her face, then she said, "Well, I thought I should let you win this one." And in do time she finally was okay with other people winning sometimes, well, as long as she doesn't lose all the time.
Its rough when they're in school, all the kids want to win.

When I play with my 4 year old. She sometimes has this problem too. She's doesn't get upset about winning or losing, she does get upset when things don't go her way, like I end up getting her favorite color in "Horton Hears a Who" game. Whenever we play that game, I talk with her about not getting upset if she don't get the pink card. She agrees with me. If I forget to talk with her before hand and I end up getting the pink card, she gets upset. I tell her that I don't want to play and that the game is over. If she is able to settle down then we continue to play, if not the game is over.

Whenever we play board games, we play until both of us finish. For an example, in Candyland, we try to get to the Candy Castle for the "party" and everyone is invited! In card games, we play until all the cards are used. This was my daughter's idea. I think she didn't want the game to end even if we play it again. I love her idea since it is not the winning and losing that is important, but having fun and learning at the same time!

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It's wonderful that you are taking the time to play games with your daughter. It's so much better to learn how to deal with losing when you are young like this. It took my kids quite a while to be able to play for fun and not be devastated when they lost or when a turn went against them, but now they are great sports at games. And it was very noticeable when they were playing a game with an older cousin who had *not* learned to deal with disappointment....

Here are some strategies that helped us (keep in mind there are usually 3 of us playing):

*When something goes wrong for me in the game, or I lose, sometimes I ask, "Oh no!! Can I cry now?! Can I pout and get mad?!" And I'll make a show of exaggerated crying or whining about it. My kids will say, "No! Stop that mom!" And I will stop and say, "Oh, you're right. I don't have to cry. That's just the way the game goes."

*When someone is disappointed about losing, I place the emphasis on how nice it is that someone else got a chance to win. "Wouldn't it be so sad for them if you won all the time and they never got a chance to win? Think about if they always won--wouldn't you like a chance to win too?"

*When there are three or more playing, after someone wins, sometimes we call them the "first winner" and continue playing to see who the "second winner" will be. Even if just two are playing, you can have a "first winner" and "second winner" instead of a "winner" and "loser".

*When one of us has a string of bad luck during a game (like not rolling the right number to get out of start), I encourage them to laugh about it instead of getting frustrated. "What a crazy game this is today!"

Don't give up! It will take time and lots of practice, but she'll get it eventually and you'll all have lots of fun playing no matter who wins.
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PS--I just love games, so I've been reading the other responses... I really like Julie E's suggestion of making the winner clean up and put away the game--I'm going to try that! And Shane B has good advice also--as a child grows, games are a great way to teach strategy and thinking skills.

And I respectfully disagree with the mom who always lets the child win. Children should definitely get to enjoy the experience of winning, yes, but it's an important skill to know how to lose and we should make sure our children learn it. (It's much better to learn how to lose when you're 4 and playing Candyland, than when your older.) Besides, they will catch on if you *always* "let" them win and it will be a hollow victory. I can see the satisfaction in my kids when they know they've won on their own--it's not the same when they know I've let them win. So only let them win sometimes, and not so they can figure out what you're doing.

3 moms found this helpful

Dear J.,
It is amazing the things children can learn from playing cards and games with mom and dad. And siblings if they have them. Fortunately, I didn't have too much trouble with my kids on the subject. For us, it was more an emphasis on the playing and taking turns that mattered. We didn't really use the words "winner" or "loser" too much. It didn't matter who won or lost, because we could just play again. If they started fussing or getting upset, then it was time to put the game away. I told my kids that the only way they could win every single time, is if they only played something by themselves. It's much more fun to play with someone else. If two people play, only one can get to the finish first. It's the same if there are 3 or more people playing. Winning is a great feeling, but if you don't win everytime, that's okay too. Other people want to know how coming in first feels as well.
I think it's certainly fine to let your child win sometimes. But please, don't make too much a habit of it. We know a boy who throws fits like your daughter if he doesn't win every single thing. Team sports are basically out because he thinks he should be the only one to ever have the ball and gets angry with his teammates for not complying with his belief about how it's supposed to work even if he was nowhere near the basket or goal or whatever. He'll stomp off, kick, throw things, cuss....and he's 13 now. So, you are so right to want to change how your daughter views what participating in a game means.
Let's face it, how can you play "Go Fish" with a little kid and not know what cards they have? I admit, I have fudged a little here and there too.
My son's favorite, and it still cracks me up, was "Old May". He didn't say Old MAID. It was Old May. He thought she was such a cute little old lady and he thought the the person who got Old May was the winner. So we just went with that. He would say, "Mommy, let's play again. Maybe you will get Old May next time."
The other thing I did with my kids was try to teach them about the game. This may work with your daughter too.
We were playing, but there was no winner or loser because they let me look at their cards and I let them look at mine. If they drew a card, I helped them either match it or know to ask for it next time. If I drew a card, I explained the same thing and asked what they thought I should do next. That way, they learned the concept of how many cards are in the deck, how many in each hand, etc. Even with dice games like Sorry!...it might be better to move this piece before that one. If they landed on my space and had to send me back "home", that was just part of playing the game. And I would always ask them what they thought I should do with my number of moves, etc. It just got them thinking more about how the game is played. Then, when we played "for real", it was more of a fun challenge.
Games like Candyland and Chutes and Ladders....there is no real strategy to those. There is no winner or loser. It just depends on how the cards are shuffled and what you land on. I made it sound like a fun thing to get the card that let me go down the slide.

You're doing a great job. She will learn that winning isn't everything. And it's okay. It should be about having fun.

My husband (now my ex) took the kids and I bowling once. I hadn't been bowling since I was in high school. I couldn't believe that I won, I was just having fun. My 40 year old husband acted like a big baby, wouldn't let us play again, made us leave, and never took us bowling again.

2 moms found this helpful

Just agreeing with the other posts. My 4yo daughter pulls similar antics and boy does she try to cheat beyond measure! If she doesn't win, she sits glum and even an hour later when we've moved on, she brings up that she's not happy she didn't win.

It's the age!

My niece who is now 8 did the same exact thing, I remember her mom saying, I just can't play with her anymore, it's so frustrating!! They grow out of it.

1 mom found this helpful

As a family therapist here, are the two techniques I would suggest: successive approximation, which is the idea that when you have a big goal in mind (like a whale jumping over a rope) reward anything in the right direction (like swimming over the rope). In your case, before she has a chance to flip out when she loses, say, 'You're handling this really well. I'm very impressed. It takes a mature person to lose gracefully.' This not only rewards the behavior you want to see more, it puts the idea in her head 'I'm mature. I don't throw tantrums when I lose.' People (adults and children) almost always try to live up (or down) to their own notions of who they are. And if she still flips out, you can say, 'I saw that you still lost your cool, but you regained your composure faster than usual.' Also, if she does flip out, using phrases like, 'Wow, you look really upset! That must have been a big disappointment!' will help her recover faster.

1 mom found this helpful

Mine did the same and is now 7 and grew out of it. It is just the age. Keep it light and walk away from the tantrums/ignore. When my dtr reacted this way I would just end the game and say she must be too tired to play or maybe she is not old enough to play this one. The last mom had great advice. I would do some of these things also. But mostly I think they just have to grow up a bit to handle losing.

My daughter was the same way at the same age. My husband and I started cutting her off, right before she had her little fit, to say "Thank you for letting me win. That is so nice of you!" In the beginning she had this puzzled look on her face, then she said, "Well, I thought I should let you win this one." And in do time she finally was okay with other people winning sometimes, well, as long as she doesn't lose all the time.
Its rough when they're in school, all the kids want to win.

When I play with my 4 year old. She sometimes has this problem too. She's doesn't get upset about winning or losing, she does get upset when things don't go her way, like I end up getting her favorite color in "Horton Hears a Who" game. Whenever we play that game, I talk with her about not getting upset if she don't get the pink card. She agrees with me. If I forget to talk with her before hand and I end up getting the pink card, she gets upset. I tell her that I don't want to play and that the game is over. If she is able to settle down then we continue to play, if not the game is over.

Whenever we play board games, we play until both of us finish. For an example, in Candyland, we try to get to the Candy Castle for the "party" and everyone is invited! In card games, we play until all the cards are used. This was my daughter's idea. I think she didn't want the game to end even if we play it again. I love her idea since it is not the winning and losing that is important, but having fun and learning at the same time!

My kids were both like that at that age. I think it is important to not always let them win because this is a perfect opportunity to teach them how to handle life's disapointments. I would just tell them (prior to playing the game)that if they were going to have a fit if they lost I wasn't sure if I wanted to play. They eventually learned that if they wanted mom to play with them they had to be more gracious if they lost (and if they won)!

Well Noelle said it all very well. We have done the same things and they really helped my son. Sometimes acting things out so the kids can see a dramatized look at what they look like lightens things up. Humor goes a long way in solving problems but you have to be careful to do it in such a way a person dosn't feel teased. I think Noelle explained it perfectly. It's so funny when mom throws a big tempertantrum and the child gets to be the soother,helper ,explaining how it's okay to not always win. There is also a series of books on different character traits called' Help me be good". One is on being a bad sport. I have used these books on occasion when one of my children is struggling with a character issue and I modify them a bit. I don't read them word for word( I change the word hate to don't like ,and bad sport to poor sport ect...) but they can be funny and silly . It's just one more tool in teaching the importance of good character. The books I have found at second hand stores. I never read one that isn't something we are dealing with. I think it's okay to sometimes let the child win because it's important to learn how to be a gracious winner too.My son was particularly sensitive to his dad winning him more then me.It was important for him to win sometimes. Your doing a great job. Keep having fun with your kiddo.

Don't worry! Keep playing, and keep gently explaining what it means to be a good winner and a good loser (and the other suggestions here sound great too). She will get it eventually. I think it may be developmental, because at the same age (4 years), my daughter did the same thing, and now, at age 6, she is a very gracious loser and a very gracious winner (when she wins, she compliments me and says we are both winners because we have good sportsmanship). Good luck!

J. - Just wanted to say thanks for asking this question. I have started to notice the same with my oldest who is 4. I got lots of good ideas from reading the all the great responses. Thanks for the great question....Last week,I just pointed out my husband that I think our son is a poor loser and that we need to start strategizing on how to break him of it. These ideas are great.

I love playing games with my kids too. One strategy we employ is that the winner has to put the game away. If the "winner" starts gloating, the "loser" gets to taunt about not having to put the game away. It doesn't last more than a couple of seconds if it happens at all. My kids are now 9 and 6 and if there is no gloating then usually both kids will put the game away together. They laugh at their Dad & I if we have to put the game away - all by ourselves :)!

All of my three kids were sore losers at that age. I had to coach them and their attitudes. First, I would lay down the ground rules for her when she asks to play a game (ok but there will be no tantrums). If she begins a tantrum, warn her. If she doesn't stop, immediately send her to a "cool down" /time out spot for 4 minutes. She will get the idea, and then you will have a pouter maybe, but it will improve. Then keep repeating the mantra "games are for FUN and both people should have fun...it doesn't mattter who wins in the end" I would give her practice with this by playing drawn out games that you don't manage to finish, like War with cards or Parcheesi. giggle and laugh and have fun, but run out of time before it is done (dinner now!). Then she can learn that games are a happy, social past time. That is all. If she ever plays a competitive sport, I am sure the coach will manage to teach her about skills and challenge etc. For now, she needs to enjoy. This worked for my kids, and now we all play games for fun. BTW I would avoid Candyland -its just frustrating to get to the top to fall down a ladder. There are better options. Good luck!

my son was the same at that age and we said that if he is going to cry every time he loses then we are not going to play the game. We did stop playing for a while until he finally said ok, I won't get mad if I lose and he didn't. With my other two, we didn't have that issue at all now that I think of it, they were ok and just laughed with an ahhh maaannn.

My daughter was the same way. You just have to keep explaining to her that it's okay to lose too, it was still a fun game, and no one is going to want to play games with her if she's a sore loser. It got to the point with my daughter where I would tell her when she asked me to play a game, "I'll only play if you promise not to get mad if I win." Then she'd have to be mindful of it. Good luck, it will pass. Just keep up the dialogue. C.

Just keep reminding her. My youngest son was that way, and at 14 he's just fine. We mostly laughed off his behavior.

Explain to her that it's not whether she wins or loses it's the fun of playing the game and then the next time you play, before the game is over tell her that's it. You're not going to play to conclusion because that's not the point. the point is we had fun while we were doing it. Maybe that way she can learn to enjoy the game without the competitiveness. Also, just know that this is an age thing - my granddaughter was the same way at age 4 (but not to the point of throwing a fit). She would get upset and almost cry (she doesn't cry very easily) Now, however, she takes it in stride - that just came with age. I didn't do anything to accomplish that.

I always let my kids win. I was an adult and they were kids, why dash their hopes. So I fudged on Old Maid and we laughed when I always lost. And when I had two kids we had winner one and winner two. I was always winner three. And we all celebrated. I fostered good self esteem. What always got me is the dad wrestling with the son and always winning. Big challenge. I told more than one Dad, let your son win. He needs to feel powerful. And so should you. Let your daughter win and stop feeling like she has to triumph over an adult and all your experience to be an actual winner. It is not really a fair fight. That kind of control is not necessary. She is a kid and should be having fun. Not stressing over the fact she can't beat an experienced adult. Give your daughter a chance to SHINE.
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Good Luck.

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