Everyone makes mistakes; it's how we learn. But some kids don't know how to handle their defeat and lose gracefully.And because they lack that skill, they often look like poor losers. Here are a few strategies that help kids bounce back from defeat and fail gracefully. Do remember that whenever your kid makes a mistake, show your support with both your words and your nonverbal reactions. The quickest way your kid will learn to handle defeat gracefully is feeling your acceptance of his errors:
• Model how to cope. Show how you cope with error so your kid can model your example. First say your mistake and then what you learned. Here's the formula: "My mistake was. ...I learned ... from my mistake." Example: "I had to redo a whole report today at work because I forgot to save the document on my hard drive. Next time, I'll save as I go along."
• Teach positive self-talk. Help your kid learn a statement to say to himself to bounce back from defeat. Some examples are, "It doesn't have to be perfect." "It's okay to make a mistake." "I can turn it around." "Everybody makes mistakes." Once you select one, help your kid practice saying the same statement out loud several times for a few days. The more he hears it, the greater the chance is he'll remember it and use it.
• Don't call it a mistake! Kids who bounce back often call mistakes by other names—a glitch, a bug, or a setback—so they won't discourage themselves in the middle of their learning. Help your kid come up with a word to say inside his head whenever he encounters a mistake. Any word will do. Just make sure to help him practice saying it over and over so he'll remember to use it when he really makes a mistake.And he'll be less likely to make excuses, blame, or criticize others.
• Handle defeat with grace. Brainstorm together phrases your kid could say when she errs or suffers a defeat so she sounds like a graceful loser—for example:"Good debate!""That was close.""Let's do it again.""I gave it my best" "Let's try again tomorrow." "You game for a rematch?" Help him practice at home so he can confidently say them to his peers.
The First 21 Days
Start up a Family Game Night. Dust off your chess set, checkers, or Monopoly board or treat yourself to one of those amazing new video games, and play them as a family. It's one of the best ways to help your kid learn to lose gracefully and change that bad loser attitude. Start by reviewing the rules, and then remind your kid he must stick by them: "No arguing about rules.We agree to them at the beginning and don't change them unless everyone agrees to. No criticizing or excuses."As you play, deliberately allow yourself a few mistakes. Instead of making excuses, blaming, and criticizing, model how to handle defeat: "Wow, I wasn't thinking that time," or "You got me there!" You might even lose the game—on purpose, of course—but be subtle enough not to let your kid know. Show him how to lose gracefully:"Good game. Let's play again tomorrow," and then shake hands.
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