26 answers

Sore Loser Syndrome :)

I could really use some help figuring out where developmentally my son should be with this issue of crying during every and all games engaged in with family members. If something doesn't go his way or he sees some component of the game that he doesn't think is fair, he completely melts down. If he doesn't win, he melts down. If he doesn't think he's going to win he melts down. My daughter is completely different stage/age, but I worry about how his demonstrations of poor sportsmanship will/may/do have an affect on her outlook/behavior. HOW do I teach him to deal with sportsmanship? My husband and I, we recently noticed, have really shied away from playing family games because of what a nightmare it becomes dealing with our sons outbursts and meltdowns. We don't do the "fake winning" (haven't ever) but now, I'm wondering if that was a mistake. Today, to give an example, we were outside spending time in the backyard and decided to have some running races. They raced around the house and of course my five year old son was entirely faster than my two year old daughter. Next race, I encouraged him to give her a head start... let the tantrums begin. I then demonstrated how bigger people have an advantage over little people: all three of us raced to a tree. He melted down because I won. I went on to explain that because I'm bigger I'll win. Would he like a head start if he raced me? Yes, he replied...so I tried to explain how the same would be fair when he and his sister race. So, they raced again. Melt down again, and again, and again. I tried to reason with him and the whole ordeal became all about him, which is not healthy for his sister to always experience the focus on him. This fun little time outside turned into a big crying mess. My daughter kept a great outlook, but she finally gave up as she to was tired of his antics. This is just one example... be it CandyLand or Green Eggs & Ham it always turns into crying. My husband joke, "we're not having fun until someone starts cryin'!" (Of course that is just between my husband and I - the children have never heard us say that.) Even when it comes to taking turns throwing a ball or who gets to go first... And it isn't a stage, as he's been like this since he was old enough to engage in games and turns. Obviously, I have dropped the ball (no pun intended!) on this parenting issue. I probably have never responded in a way that would curb the unwanted behavior. But, I honestly just don't know how to parent this! I am at a loss and what's worse, is this crying just grates on my nerves. My husband and I competed in various activities all throughout child hood and good sportsmanship is so important to us. So internally, this just pushes my buttons and I don't stay even keeled about it. More or less, it just makes my blood boil and we eventually give up the game and play because we just can seem to get the desired response out of our son. Not fair to our daughter or a good example to her. Also, I don't notice that other kids his age have a huge problem with this. He is in tball and has only had one melt down there. He is in preschool. He has play dates- seems like he just melts down with us, so obviously it's our parenting that is the problem! PLEASE help!!

What can I do next?

Featured Answers

B., Although most children learn early on that playing the game is more important than actually winning it some children take a lot longer to do this.
Not playing the let him win game is a fine example to set.When my children were younger the one with the poor loser attitude was not allowed to play for a few times; we gave him a coloring book or something else to occupy him; and told him he could not play the family game because he did not understand that losing is part of playing. After a few game night misses his behavior changed dramatically and we then had a much better behaved son who is now a wonderful grown man. He also was my card game partner when we taught them to play more adult games. He is the Monopoly champ of the family now and can not be beat. LOL.
Good Luck

2 moms found this helpful

My nephew used to get really upset when playing games. We just said "Oh dear, if playing this game is going to make you that upset, then we/you just shouldn't play. I don't want it to upset you." maybe if he sees that he can't play it will help him control himself.

Good luck!

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Love the advice by Dawn B. John Rosemond is a wonderful man and is not one of those psychologist/authors that minces words and plays into the child's behavior by "validating his feelings". Read one of his books and it will change you life. Anyway, what I would do is this: I would race him and let him win and then start having a temper tantrum exactly like he has. Play a game and let him win and have a temper tantrum. Show him how annoying it is to play with him. Good luck!

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You've gotten some really good advice, especially that concerning immediate consequences and continuing the game without him. I honed in on a couple of your sentences that can be the key. You said he doesn't do this at playdates and only melted down once at tball. This tells you that something about the situation at home is different. You need to identify what is different and focus the change there. Are you and your husband putting too much pressure on him? You said you don't believe in "letting" someone win but then ask him to "let" his sister win the race. This is a mixed message that he is likely to internalize that it's about him. It's confusing and does reinforce "unfairness". Do you ever just play games with him or is his sister always included? Do you protect her but expect him to follow the rules? Just some things to think about.

L. D.

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I remember going through this with my son. Here is one thing I tried: First, I had a chat with him at a calm time (in the car, or before evening story time). I used some of the techniques in "Talking So Kids Will Listen, Listening So Kids Will Talk." It goes something like this: "I noticed you are really happy when you win a game. Tell me what it feels like when you win." "I noticed you are very unhappy when you lose a game. Tell me what it feels like when you lose." Validate his feelings. Help him name his feelings (Anger, disappointment) "When you feel unhappy about losing, what can you do?" Talk him through other ways he can behave when he loses a game. At another time, you can talk about the how other people feel the same way. How do other people react when they lose a game?

Finally, explain to him that when he reacts by having a meltdown, other people feel sad and don't want to play any more. You want him to play the games with you, but he has to be prepared to win or lose. BEFORE you start the game (even a little while before game - like 30 minutes), prepare him for the fact that you all want to play a game. He can decide to join in or not, but if he joins in he has to be prepared to win or lose. Set up a 'trial' game, so that he can make that decision. You could also set up a chart, so that he can see that sometimes he wins and sometimes other people win.

Ask your librarian to recommend books dealing with this topic. The Bernstein Bears often have good stories dealing with "kid" topics.

Good Luck! This too will pass!

2 moms found this helpful

Hi B.,

Do you know of a columnist/doctor named John Rosemond? I used to read his column when it was in our local newspaper, and I remember him talking about something concerning his own daughter. He said that she would go to friends' houses and come home early crying because something that happened in their play upset her. What he said that he and his wife instituted was when she did this, they would tell her that she must be "tired" and send her to her room to have to rest. That way she didn't get to keep going on and on with her "pity party" (that's my term, not his) and it taught her that she wouldn't get to be with anyone if she came home crying about a playdate. I remember that he said the last time she did it, she came out of her room in a few minutes and announced that she was going to go back over to her friend's house and work things out.

I wonder if this would be good to do for your son. I wouldn't go through trying to reason with him during a meltdown. Sometimes a bunch of talking just excelerates a meltdown. Before the activity, each and every time, tell him he will have to go to his room to get ahold of himself and stay there (decide on a set amount of time, but he must not be crying anymore no matter how long it lasts) if he cannot act like everyone else doing the activity. It may take a long time for him to get over this, but I think you would make some progress better than giving him a lot of attention during all these meltdowns. And I'd make sure you handle it the same way everytime.

I had just a little of this with my older son, but only about about bowling, putt-putt, and ice skating. He was older than your son at the time. These activities were out in a public place, and it was really hard on our family. I elected to stop the putt-putt and ice skating for a few years because of it. What I did with bowling is to pair him WITH his brother, against me, so that they could both beat me. (They had bumpers, I didn't.) That helped. (However, I don't recommend that to you with your games and running around.) Your backyard games and board games are good ways for you to try to work on this issue, yet be able to send him to his room. Public humilation is so hard to deal with, which is why I waited for a long time for the putt-putt and skating when I realized he couldn't handle it.

Sending him to his room everytime is also a good way to show your daughter the inappropriateness of his actions. Continuing to play with her and ignoring him when he acts this way is healthier for your daughter, I think.

Hope this helps some.
D.

2 moms found this helpful

B., Although most children learn early on that playing the game is more important than actually winning it some children take a lot longer to do this.
Not playing the let him win game is a fine example to set.When my children were younger the one with the poor loser attitude was not allowed to play for a few times; we gave him a coloring book or something else to occupy him; and told him he could not play the family game because he did not understand that losing is part of playing. After a few game night misses his behavior changed dramatically and we then had a much better behaved son who is now a wonderful grown man. He also was my card game partner when we taught them to play more adult games. He is the Monopoly champ of the family now and can not be beat. LOL.
Good Luck

2 moms found this helpful

i have a bit of a different take on this. We just don't play competitive games at our house. There is plenty of competition out there, and my kids just didn't (and don't) fit the competitive model. One is very sensitive (perfectionist, highly empathetic, emotional), one is ADHD, and one would freeze even when it came to getting candy from a pinata! At age 5, competition is a really complex concept (especially with different skill levels). He may be overwhelmed, and thus the meltdowns. He has plenty of time to learn that concept.

I would go for more cooperative games or projects you can all participate in. Play down the competition for a while (or forever).

One of the things that is so hard for me to learn (but is presented to me over and over) is that our kids are unique and may not have our temperment, skills, or interests. It is up to us to help them discover theirs and to use them productively and wisely. (I was a competitive athlete all my life, and none of my three follow in my tracks...I SO miss the teams, sports events, and the learning from them, but it is their lives, not mine.)

My best to you and your son,
H.

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Hey B.!

You don't say how old your son is, so I can't say whether this is typical;

I can, however, recommend some great books that my daughter loves. they are "Help me be good" books by Joy Berry. They are fun with real messages, and one in particular is called "Not being a Bad Sport", or something to that effect.

Just be patient; don't bend the rules because he cries, and hang in there!

Hope this helps.

J.

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I feel your pain. My 5 year old boy does the same thing and I find it very frustrating! And, don't beat yourself up on the parenting issue...kids are at their worst with people they feel safe around. Consider it some demented form of flattery. :-)

I DO think competition is a good thing. While I also love opportunities for cooperative play, learning to lose gracefully is one of the best traits we can teach our kids, so kudos to you and your husband!

What we do at my house is that if my son starts the 'Sore Loser Meltdown', I/we remove him from the game IMMEDIATELY. I do not entertain that behavior or react emotionally...he is told if he is going to be a sore loser, then he has to do it in his room (timeout). If we are at someone elses house, he has to go to an appropriate timeout place. I don't make him stay long, but he is not able to participate until he is back to 'normal' and when he leaves the timeout area, I emphasize my expectations of him again. I have seen some of this curb in the last few months.

Keep up the good work and don't let yourself get too down about it.

2 moms found this helpful

Don't be so hard on yourself. Each kid is going to be different. Some are just naturally more competitive than others. That does not mean that he can not learn good sportsmanship, just don't get bogged down with comparisons. If you think you have to fix the problem, then you are going to get stressed. Fortunately, the mommy job is not to make the kids smile all day. My third son is a sore loser. The first two would cause envy in other parents because of their level of honest good sportsmanship, but then came number three. He hates losing and really loses it even if it seems like he might lose. Our plan has been to just let him learn to deal with losing. Having older brothers helps with the many needed opportunities to lose. We set limits on how he can display his anger, but we allow him to be angry. often times we have had him sit in his room till he is ready to rejoin the group without the anger. The hard part is not being moved by his anger. If he sees that the anger is not going to produce the results that he is looking for, he will back off. Life provides all the needed training, all you have to do is just let it, and not let it get under your skin. Remember that the anger is just the natural part of him learning, then you will welcome opportunities for him to lose, and lose his temper. By the way, good job, on being honest and not letting him fake win. If you had done the fake win approach, the problem would very likely be much worse. He can only learn to deal with disappointments in the midst of disappointment. When we have family prayer we pray about this with Andrew so that he will see that God will help him deal with lives disappointments. We also take that time to pray about issues that we each are working on. It makes him feel better to know that we are all working on something, and becoming better people. Praise the competitive spirit, but caution him against being a poor sport. Have fun, J. M

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I would check at the library to see if they have some books on good sportsmanship geared for his age group. When we had an issue that was similar we just started denying the child the opportunity to partake of the game, sport or whatever it was. This worked for us. First we set the ground rules, 1.You may participate in this activity as long as there is no crying, throwing a fit,(insert the undesired behavior(s) here). If you break this rule you will have to sit it out on the bench, away from the table, etc...2.You must try to have fun doing this. 3. Smile!

You need to stick to the rules and follow through with them for whoever is breaking them. With our kids as soon as they realized that we would pull them out of the game or activity that they wanted to take part in they stopped the undesired behavior. As they got older and participated in group sports they would get upset if they lost a game but were always told by the coaches and managers that they had great sportsmanship!

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I don't know the best answer to this dilemma, but I definitely wouldn't hang around and listen to his meltdowns. I would either gather up the younger child and walk away, telling him that it's no fun to be around him when he acts like that, or send him packing to his room or where ever until he can compose himself. You shouldn't have to be tortured by his wailing, and he shouldn't get any attention out of it whatsoever - good or bad. It takes a while to break something that's become such a habit for him, so don't expect overnight success in squelching the behavior. Be calm about it, and matter of fact. Make the rule ahead of time that any crying results in a cool down in the bedroom (or bathroom, or some boring place), then expect a melt down, and send him to the place when it happens. Don't give sympathy - just shrug it off that sometimes we win, sometimes we don't. No more explanation than that - there isn't much reasoning with him, obviously. Don't beat yourself up over it - they don't come with emotional instruction manuals. I also would highly recommend any of John Rosemond's books (www.rosemond.com) such as his Six Point Plan for Raising Happy Healthy Children. Good luck!

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Developmentally, this behavior is perfectly normal; however, if it continues, it will become problematic. It sounds like you will need to provide him with some sort of benefit for being a good sport that outweighs the winning. I would set the expectation of how we behave "win or lose" before the game begins. At the first sight of tantrum behavior, the game is over and will not continue until acceptable behavior is shown. If he can get through the game without a tantrum and can take turns appropriately, he earns a reward such as a sticker, treat, etc. He will need to see the benefit of acting like a good sport before he will change the behavior. The key is to set the expectations of what you want to see BEFORE you begin the game. Then you just have to remind him throughout to follow the rules you all agreed upon. As soon as a rule is not followed, you end the game...no discussion. I hope this helps.

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Having fun family activities turn into this must be very frustrating. I would give him a time out somewhere near where the activity is happening so that you can monitor what is going on. Also, then the family can continue the activity, because everyone shouldn't be punished because he's being a poor sport, it may or may not encourage him to calm down because he's missing out. When my daughter has time out I set a timer so that it's not up to me to remember how long she's been in time out.

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Don't be so hard on yourself! I don't have any great advice - am waiting to read what others say - but please don't take all the blame for this. A child's mind is so complex, and as you see with your daughter, each child is so different. I can relate to your frustration. I don't have lots of patience with bad sportsmanship either. When playing a Boardgame have you ever stopped the game and sent him to his room when he starts to act up? End a race and send him to his room? Let him cry/scream/act out on his own upstairs until he calms down? We once stopped a game with my son when he was 3 and he cheated. Put the game away and wouldn't let him play for a week. He's never cheated since. Just an idea...good luck.

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Love the advice by Dawn B. John Rosemond is a wonderful man and is not one of those psychologist/authors that minces words and plays into the child's behavior by "validating his feelings". Read one of his books and it will change you life. Anyway, what I would do is this: I would race him and let him win and then start having a temper tantrum exactly like he has. Play a game and let him win and have a temper tantrum. Show him how annoying it is to play with him. Good luck!

1 mom found this helpful

hello B., i don't really have advice but what i can tell you is what i have experienced with my little man who is 10 now, he also is such of a sore loser that it drives me wacko, but i only see him act like that when it comes too something on an individual basis, he is a soccer player , now as for losing a game he doesn't have melt downs, but if he does something wrong he really is hard on his self, and actually there are times when he has too go out because he can't regain he composure in time; so i am trying too work with him on focusing on what he could do different, not too maybe make the same mistake, but in my own womanly way of thinking i think it's a mix of manly pride , that they only display with the family, my son does exactly what yours does, playdates (NO PROBLEMS),soccer games(NO PROBLEMS), but don't play his sister and me and him play UNO ,or any game and he loses oh good heavens i mean a tantrum from who knows where. I AT THIS POINT JUST IGNORE HIM AND MAKE HIM GO IN HIS ROOM. BELIVE ME YOU ARE NOT ALONE ON THIS ONE, NOT TO GET YOUR SPIRITS DOWN BUT MY SON HAS BEEN LIKE THIS ABOUT PRESCHOOL AGE. SORRY TO LET YOU KNOW THAT BUT IT's true.

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B.,
At five yrs old your son is old enough to understand all actions have consequences. By only rewarding good behavior and ignoring the bad, he should come around. When he starts the crying, just let him know that crying isn't part of the game and that he can go to his room if he wants to cry. When he is ready to understand that sometimes you win and sometimes you don't, then he can come back and play. I would give one warning only. Then after the warning if he starts in tell him "you were warned" and take him out of the situation right away.
It shouldn't take too long at all for him to figure out that if he wants to have any fun, he'll learn to restrain himself.
Hope this helps,
T. s.

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It's good to give him time-outs when he is responding with inappropriate emotions. This teaches him self-control. I agree that you should validate his feelings but then disipline him at the same time. My son get's time-outs for crying for no reason and is encouraged to pull himself together with counting to 10 and deep breaths. It works! He's learning to control his emotions and is practicing the techniques on his own sometimes. Crying is often a bad behavior and must be modified.

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Hi B., I have a couple of things. First of all, quit beating yourself up. THis is not your fault. THe only thing I could think of would be to not talk about winning. Does your T-ball league keep score. If so they shouldn't. It's way too early to talk about winning, should be playing for fun. Of course that will change soon enough.
When my children resond in this sort of way I first assume they are tired. He goes to pre-school, take a nap?? Yes, I know 5 is probably too old to take a daily nap but take a rest time. Maybe lay on the couch and watch t.v. for an hour, he may fall asleep.
My son has outburst like these, he just turned 7 and is in 1st grade.
My son has been diagnosed with ADHD and is on meds. If all else fails, look up symptoms of ADHD. If it is ADHD the sooner you catch it the better. Mine and my sons teacher, who deals with this type of outburst everyday, favorite saying is, It's not a big deal. He can melt down over the smallest things. We always reply with It's not a big deal. This does seem to help.
Good luck!

1 mom found this helpful

My nephew used to get really upset when playing games. We just said "Oh dear, if playing this game is going to make you that upset, then we/you just shouldn't play. I don't want it to upset you." maybe if he sees that he can't play it will help him control himself.

Good luck!

1 mom found this helpful

B.,
I really agree with Margie's response. Try it at home so you don't have to deal with a public meltdown. And go with a game that is not skill based but winning is completely by chance. Let your son know ahead of time that this game is only for big girls and big boys and if he starts crying or acting out, he will have to go sit it out for whatever amount of time. And like Margie said, keep playing and having a good time.
Give him good examples to follow also. For instance, when you need to roll a six with the die and you only roll a two, stay positive. Play it off and let him know you can still have fun.
Finally, at the end of the game, if he does not win, do something positive to keep him in good spirits. For instance, if dad wins, say to your son, "Let's go tickle the winner." Things like that will teach him that losing is not the end of the world.
Hope that helps.
Betsy

1 mom found this helpful

Hi, B.~
You've gotten a lot of seemingly conflicting advice . . . Let me add my 2 cents' worth.

Our older son (2nd child) is now almost 30, and he's a very sensitive guy. He was a 'sore loser', also and would also cheat to win (a BIG NO-NO in our family). I took his sensitivities as rebellion when he was a child and punished WAY too much, though.

Yes, do punish him for bad behavior. But be sure to praise and reward him for good behavior!

Yes, do affirm his feelings, but be sure to let him know that everyone ELSE has feelings, also, and it's NOT 'all about him'.

Yes, this is about your parenting, but that means it's also within your power to turn it around!!

I'm guessing that this is almost an overly 'big deal' to you and your husband, and your son is playing into that. I agree that the less attention he gets for his meltdowns -- and the more separation he experiences from participation, the better. I also agree not to talk to him DURING the meltdown, but discuss it with him at a calm time and with diplomacy.

You're good parents, it's just that none of us got a 'one-size-fits-all manual' for parenting. I've heard it said that there are as many ways of parenting as there are parents. I'll go a step further and say that there are as many different ways to parent as there are CHILDREN! They're ALL so different! Just keep up the attitude of WANTING to do it 'right'!

God bless!

P.S. In case you see this. I think that it's usually the 'Melancholy' (negative, perfectionist) personality/temperament type that usually has this 'syndrome'. Like someone else said, he's too hard on himself. He really, really needs positive reinforcement for whatever he does RIGHT and as little criticism and 'negative attention' as possible. Maybe instead of 'punishment', only use 'disciplinary' measurements (milder consequences) with him. Also, he probably is more of a 'team player' than an 'individually competitive' spirit.

1 mom found this helpful

I enjoyed reading the book Playful Parenting. I can't remember the author. Basically it is okay to let your child win in certain situations. Perhaps you could have a special game time just for him to let him set his own rules a few times. Once he has been given a chance to control his own environment, he is likely to be more receptive to following the rules for family games.

One example would be letting him win sometimes when he races you. This way he will understand that he can let his sister win sometimes too. If he can't ever beat you in a race, it makes sense that he would think he should never let his sister win either.

He already understands how to play fair everywhere else. Give him a chance to feel like he's the best at something while he's at home. This will help him always remain calm with the rules at other places. He just needs a chance to feel like he can win somewhere.

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I love and agree with Kerry's response.

I also wanted to let you know that you are not alone. I have and continue to have this problem with my son. I am not saying this is true of your son, but in our case he is XYY and been diagnosed as highly functional autistic. Just like you, I have a daughter that does not have these outbursts about game playing. Since your daughter does fine and I assume you have parented them the same way, I think you need to stop beating yourself up and realize it is not your fault - it is not due to your parenting!!

I think you should talk to him during a calm time, like Kerry suggested, and during that time also talk about what the resolution will be if he gets upset during a game - like going to his room until he is calm. Then enforce that for the sake of your daughter and keep playing with her.

Good luck!

1 mom found this helpful

I raised 3 children, 2 were fine with loosing sometimes, 1 was like your son. We let her win many times, and many times she had to see that you don't always win.That is life, most of the time you don't win. Buy a few simple board games, if you are winning, move back a few spaces so he can win sometimes, and sometimes, you can win, 5 is still very young, with tender feelings. Your parenting sounds fine to me, he happens to be a more fragile personality. I personally, have always hated games of any kind. I like things where a group works together toward a goal. I know my mother played with us and let me win sometimes.
This is a child who will possibly do better in life, in distance running, swimming, chess, karate.sports where he is working to better his own time. I always told my children, the game is fun, who cares who wins, but I know that kids want to win and this is what our society encourages. Not all cultures do.

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We have always sent the kids to their rooms and continued to play the game.
If all of them are fighting I put up the game and they all go to their rooms.
THen I say the next time we get a game out "if there are tears or fighting you will go upstairs"
Now all I have to say is "one".
The key is to follow through. If they only hear you threaten but nothing happens they will continue to whine.

Not sure of your kid's ages, but I DO feel your pain. Personality types play a big part... my 12 year old son STILL has to choke back tears when things don't go his way, but his three siblings handle it in stride. He will never be a good loser, but he has learned to respond instead of have a snap reaction. That came over time.

You do have to remove him from the situation immediately if he is acting inappropriately. Then, the best you can do is to talk to him and help him identify his feelings... it lets him vent some steam! Boys, especially, need to learn to vent in positive ways... so often we push it down and that's where some serious problems can start. "I guess losing the game made you mad/sad/frustrated/etc." Get him to talk about it and acknowledge that he's allowed to have those feelings. "It's OK to be mad. Nobody likes to loose!" If he ACTS inappropriately (don't they all sometimes) then add "It's NOT OK to throw things/hit/get mad at the other person/etc." Girls have more maturity earlier and you are lucky your daughter can handle it better, BUT PLEASE DON'T COMPARE KIDS (ie. "Look how your sister acts when she looses.") This will just create resentment and competition.

As my son got older, we'd talk about the incident after he completely cooled down. I used the tool of giving him an "imaginary eraser" and we'd erase what happened and I'd let him figure out a more appropriate way to act (pre-school is too early for that, but I found it helped my son be better prepared to know what to do next time.) When he figured out a more better response, I'd praise him for that and encouraged him to try that approach next time. Yes, it takes patience!

I think it is around 4 years old that our kids ALWAYS want us to think they are the best... they will go to extremes (lie, etc.) to not disappoint you. Have patience! (I am writing this as therapy for myself... easier to give advice than follow it at times! :-)

Good luck!!!

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