As we embrace the sunshine and warmer weather and prepare to wind down for the last school term, we are also gearing up for the annual sports day and the fun and games of pending summer camps. In the midst of it all whether it is at school, extra-curricular activities, games during playdates or simply family time together, one big hurdle for many children that often plays out is always ‘wanting to win’ and if so ‘how to pick up the pieces when they don’t?’ As much as we may deny it, parents too can have that competitive streak for their child to win! It’s healthy to set goals and believe in your child, however when it gets to that point of tears each time, striking a balance of celebrating the wins and accepting the losses is where the parent comes in to support them – this can be through empathy, understanding, encouragement, accepting and coaching too!
Having realistic expectations – Know your child’s limits
Every child grows up developing their own unique personality, some being naturally more competitive than others. This can have great benefits as it drives them to excel in certain areas of their life as they get older. When a match or a game doesn’t go as well as they expect it to, it’s important to consider their personal stage of development, and understand how this impacts on them managing defeat. In particular, pre-schoolers and toddlers can find it very tough when they don’t get their own way as they believe they are the centre of their world.
For the four and five year old, this age group can become very competitive, insisting on rules for everything while taking pride in their achievements and rightly so. Children at this preschool age are starting to understand the boundaries of social interactions, and will often need to complete the games they play by either “losing” or “winning”. The reality for children is while they move through the different developmental stages of their childhood their priorities, interests and outlook change too. Some children may always have that drive to win, so we as parents can acknowledge this as a great quality while being on the side lines cheering them on!
A little empathy goes a long way
If your child finds it difficult to deal with disappointment through tears and frustration, it’s important that you give them some time to go through the motions. Each child copes differently so allowing them that space teaches them to express themselves in their own way while encouraging them to talk through it. Along with a big hug, naming how they might be feeling is a great way to diffuse a heated situation as well as helping them recognise and manage the bigger feelings like anger and sadness. Phrases like: “I can see how upset you are and how much you wanted to win” may encourage what ‘might be’ for the next time. Allow your child hear your positive words as well: “you did really well, maybe I can help you practice”, and take the opportunity to chat about their other achievements and positive traits.
Encourage Child-Led Play
If you find games that are focused on rules, a winner and a runner up are just not working for your child, encourage child led play that involves creative and imaginative play. Activities like play dough, arts and crafts, water play and Lego allow your child to express themselves creatively, as well as dress up and building dens and huts with the couch, cushions and blankets! Allowing your child lead in play not only builds on their self-esteem but it also lets them see how other people think and feel through role play. It also sets them up to experience what it is like to feel ‘in control’ of their activities, as so much of their day is set out for them with schedules, rules of the house and routines.
It’s okay to feel disappointment
Our children depend on us to support them – as they are continually learning and adapting to new social skills, like sharing and taking it in turns, name and notice these changes. You could use an observation such as; “I can see how hard you are trying to be kind to others” or “you did really well sharing your toys out today”. However, our children aren’t always going to take comfort in our words, it’s okay for them to feel sadness, disappointment, frustration or anger. Experiencing all these emotions is so important to their social development as your child will learn in their own way of dealing with them each time. We can’t protect our children from competition all the time, however when it becomes part of their lives through school, peers and family we can support them in learning to accept and go with it as each situation arises. Our children are resilient, like us, always learning and building on their strengths, abilities and new experiences.
Aoife Lee, Parent Coach – Parent Support
You can access lots of fantastic information around parent support on Aoife’s Website: http://www.parentsupport.ie/
About The Author
Aoife is mum to three children under the age of 11, she is an accredited parent coach and is the founder of Parent Support. Aoife offers parents easy to learn skills and a variety of parenting tools that she knows are effective and practical that can help the parent build a calmer and happier home. Aoife previously worked for over 12 years with the Health Service Executive as part of an Early Intervention Team. Aoife works with many corporate companies around Ireland, delivering parenting wellness talks to their teams, she is also an expert provider for Irish Life Health’s corporate customer wellness programme.