5 year old hates to lose!

I've read a bunch of online tips and parenting blogs, but would like to hear from parents here.

My son is an only child, a little over 5 years old, and has been home with us for basically the whole last year. Prior to COVID, he was in a preschool for about 9 months. He is VERY strong willed ("spirited" as some would say) but also someone who is 95% of the time a joy to be around.

He absolutely HATES to lose!

If we're on the floor racing toy cars, he has to win. Playing Tic Tac Toe, if he loses, he crumbles up the paper and throws the pencils. Swimming and chasing, if he doesn't get there first, he screams or yells and we have to leave. Telling a story where I make up characters and he's in the story as well, his character has to win. You get the idea. For the record, I don't let him always win.

I've tried to tell him that if another little friend always has to lose, then nobody will want to play with him. He'll say then he doesn't want to play with anyone. This makes me sad, because with COVID, he's not played with any little friends in so long. I've tried to say I don't want to play with him if he throws stuff/tantrum when he doesn't win. He'll say fine, he will play by himself. Again, it's really sad, because my partner and I are all our son has. I tell him it's ok to lose, you can win another time. He sort of understands that conceptually, but he has no desire to apply it in real life. I tell him, if someone else wins, you say "good job" and try harder next time. Again, he understands, but only with much reinforcement does he remember to say it once or twice, and then he'll insist on winning again.

What are some other ways I can get through to him? I'm especially interested in stories/methods that are recent and post-covid. I feel like had his socialization and preschooling not been interrupted by this darned pandemic, he would've learned how to play with others and how to lose gracefully. But now it's just our little family and losing is just such a foreign concept that he refuses to accept.

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RE: 5 year old hates to lose! ()

My son too! For a while I reversed the order of our games and the 'winner' was the person who did the worst. So we would play candyland and the last to make it through was the 'winner.' I also did alot of failing in front of him, and made the object of things physically, again, to make the most mistakes. That was helpful. When he was a little bit older we watched shows like chopped and we did alot of post show analysis of the sore losers (which many of them are), and how they made excuses and blamed everyone else. When he watched other folks do it he developed a pretty sophisticated analysis of what a sore loser looked like.  Some of this is normal,  and it has gotten better over the years.

RE: 5 year old hates to lose! ()

Try playing some games from Peaceable Kingdom Press that are for sale at Target or on Amazon---they are cooperative games so you play as a team to try and win together.  

He will outgrow it of course, but this creates a different pathway to winning because its collective winning.  

good luck!

RE: 5 year old hates to lose! ()

My son was similar at age 5. Now at age 8, it’s better even if there’s a little residue. We play card and board games a lot. Briefly, here are some things I did:

When playing a game with me, I reminded him that the deal with me was always that any time he wanted to “stop the game as a draw” and move onto another activity we could. It took the emphasis off win/lose, and helped avoid major meltdowns.

I was clear that if he cheated to win or was rude to me while we played, then we wouldn’t play a next game and would move onto another activity.

I would let him know if I could make a really devastating move against him (chess etc) and ask if he’d rather I didn’t. 

I modeled being a good loser and laughing at really unlucky moves— “Haha, I landed on mouse trap again! Lol!” 

We played fast card games and Connect Four so that matches didn’t feel so high stakes.

With card games we played a lot, I came up with a fun tally system to mark data on which cards were the winning cards. This also took the emphasis off who the winner was. 

Particular games that were problems were just put on vacation in the closet for a little while.

Ultimately I was consistent and things did improve over the years. Playing lots of games with other kids his age in after school groups helped a ton. Practice, practice, practice. Good luck!

RE: 5 year old hates to lose! ()

My daughter is eight, also strong willed and sensitive and we kind of had this issue too. It’s tricky because I don’t think she would do this with other kids, but she often did with us, and when parents are all there is it’s hard to know what the right tack is. Parents do not function in their child’s life in the way a peer playmate does, even if they are the only playmate a child has. I think our role often is not to teach them how to play fairly in the way they would learn to with another child—it’s a lesson we want them to learn, but the power dynamic and the deep multifaceted emotional mirrors and windows of interaction between a parent and a child mean that their experience of losing a game to you is really, really different in its meaning than the experience of losing to another child. It may also be right now that there is SO MUCH LOSS, so much grief, that winning a game against a powerful (if also beloved!) adult/parent is really about him needing to feel some measure, ANY measure, of power over his life right now. Children in general are powerless over adults and right now that’s just exponentially increased with a hefty dose of grief added in the mix. 
    One thing that helps a ton for us is having the grownups play at being... I’m not sure how to describe this, but our daughter often assigns me character roles i pretend to be who are younger and less mature. I take these characters on full force! I have pretend emotional upsets which she then coaches me through (as “sister” or whatever)—I can’t do the schoolwork assigned to her and get frustrated and she tries to teach me (but I still don’t really get the concepts)—I resist brushing my teeth, practicing piano, etc. This is all done with great comic effect, so it does amuse her, but it also gives her a space where she is the wiser, more mature, more knowledgeable one who makes the rules. (I’m careful too to not do this is a way that leaves her feeling like I’m mocking her emotional struggle in a degrading way, which is really just about tracking her response to my play.) This also gives me a platform where I can “lose” a game and have a big pretend fit about it and verbalize some of those feelings (“I don’t like to lose! You always win!” And also “can you teach me how to play better?” Etc) and she can coach me through my upset feelings. 
   When we play games and I’m just being myself, there are times I let her win and times I don’t (but also she’s older now so I feel like she’s definitely grown in to accepting occasional game defeat from her parents, but at five it was really different)...when she was younger and wanted me specifically to bend rules for her, if I did that I would make sure to say, I’ll do it cause I’m me, but you do know in a game with another kid, this wouldn’t fly, right? And she does know the difference. And that helped me feel okay about it.
   I’m not sure I addressed this helpfully but I really do feel for you, and your little one, and all of us right now. Being without peers is so, so hard on everyone. If this is helpful and you’d like to chat you’re welcome to reach out via bpn with your contact info. GOOD LUCK ♥️

RE: 5 year old hates to lose! ()

Oh and yes! Cooperative games are really helpful! This is probably a couple years away from his skill level at least but Stuffed Fables is a cooperative game my daughter LOOOOOVES...it’s combo storytelling and board game, super cool. 

RE: 5 year old hates to lose! ()

Commenting to follow, as I see similar issues in my almost-5-year-old.

RE: 5 year old hates to lose! ()

We’ve dealt with this too and though it’s an ongoing project here are a couple things I found helpful: (1) set the ground rules before playing — we will play and whoever loses will not get upset, will not do x, y, z, will say good game and play another; (2) as another poster noted, showing them other people acting as bad losers, and pointing out how ridiculous that behavior is (sometimes you can model yourselves in an over the top way, the kids think it’s funny, but they do sometimes understand better when you throw an over the top fake tantrum so they can see it from the other person’s perspective; (3) conversely, complimenting good losers, e.g. do you see the losing team, they are really sad and disappointed, but they are congratulating winners because they are good players and that is how good players play, and (4) playing into the competitive spirit, I have explained that if you do not know how to lose then you do not know how to play. Part of being good at a game is understanding how to win gracefully and how to lose gracefully. If you can’t do both, you aren’t a very good player, you only know how to win. Sometimes I also emphasize that I see adults (sad but true, some recent high profile examples) who still don’t know how to do this and that the time to start learning is now, otherwise everyone else will know how to lose but not you. If you happen to know an older kid yours looks up to who would be willing to make any of these points, that can also be helpful. Good luck! 

RE: 5 year old hates to lose! ()

I have one of these too. My kiddo has always had this tendency, and it's still going strong at 7 and a half. I've done some research on it and I think it's developmentally appropriate. I don't think "losing gracefully" is something a five year old needs to do. I'd also venture to say that the loss, grief, and rage that kids have experienced due to the interruptions you mention are coming out in a number of ways, including tantrums, defiance, and yes, needing to win at all times. I'd let this be--no need to lecture or try to make it a teachable moment. More helpful might be to meet the emotion with acknowledgement--"this is really important to you, isn't it. It really matters to you whether or not you win." "You really didn't like losing, did you. I can see that you're angry (or sad)." Trust that your kiddo won't act like this on the soccer field--they will learn good sportsmanship from their peers, respected teachers, and coaches. Home is where kids discharge all of their strongest emotions--and that can be totally healthy. We love the Peaceable Kingdom games another commenter mentioned--they do make it more fun to play together as a family. Otherwise, my advice is to really let this go. The emotions go beyond the games, and more than anything else in the post-covid era, kids need to be able to express their emotions without feeling judged. 

RE: 5 year old hates to lose! ()

The book Playful Parenting by Lawrence Cohen has been really helpful to me and includes examples of ways to play with winning and losing, and how to think about your role as parent there. I see that another poster offered examples in a similar spirit, but the book could be nice if you're wanting more!

RE: 5 year old hates to lose! ()

Hi there! I'm a parent to a 4.5 year old and also a therapist for children. I've found in my work that many times, especially in early childhood/toddlerhood, there are two reasons for our little ones to be insistent on things like winning, even in non-competitive tasks. The first reason I've seen personally and professionally is that this is the time when our kiddos are starting to come into relative independence and trying to exert some control over their situation (like insisting on putting their socks on themselves even though it takes 10 minutes!). I would say this is true pre-COVID, and particularly now, the pandemic has thrown many things into disarray, such as typical socialization for kids and interacting with people outside of the home, that they aren't able to get anymore. This can make that need for control even stronger, adding on anxiety that they hold, or that caregivers/parents might be holding too, so a little control makes them feel better. If they win, or insist on winning, they control the situation and the outcome. The second reason is also an internal sense of self-doubt, either that they feel that they are bad or not good enough if they can't win, and they love to please us and make us happy! My suggestion would be to name the feelings you may feel if you lose, as well as acknowledging that if you son lost, he may be feeling a little bad or sad and to talk about it that way. He may feel it in his body and not know how to articulate it. A great story that I've read to my child and the kids I work with are The Legend of Rock, Paper, Scissors; The Cool Bean; Liam wins the game, sometimes; and even the classic Tortoise and the Hare story. I've even used the story Grumpy Monkey to tap into the feeling of "it's ok to be sad" so that the child can tolerate some of that discomfort and realize it's ok, and it actually helped to dampen his ultra-competitveness that was making it difficult for friends to play with him at school. Hope that helps!

RE: 5 year old hates to lose! ()

I taught at a school with an excellent PE teacher.  Her curriculum was based on exercise and games in which students were only pushing themselves to do their best and the games were noncompetitive.  In competitions someone has to lose and that is hard for a child and impacts their sense of worth.

RE: 5 year old hates to lose! ()

My daughter still exhibits this tendency sometimes and she just turned 10.  The difference is that she knows that it is inappropriate even when strong emotions well up from within so she usually successfully puts a clamp on it.  I have a slightly different hypothesis.  She is very transparent and what I have seen is that she believes that she has put in the effort and the strategy necessary to win.  She is generally very dedicated to every endeavor and she plays to win.  Generally not bad traits so I spend the time to explain why it is possible to lose in those particular situations despite her logic and effort.  The more of this information that she successfully integrates into her view of the world, the better she is able to manage her strong emotions.  Frankly I still see some of this in adults in the form of arguing over the rules, handicaps etc.  In some class environments, her peers have been understanding and supportive of her efforts, in some other environments even adults that work with children had trouble processing her behavior sometimes.  It is definitely can be awkward for the parent!

RE: 5 year old hates to lose! ()

My son was the same.. he’s almost 15 and still hates to lose! It’s part of his personality and is consistent w other traits like extreme know-it-all-ness and the certainty that he should always get his way. We’ve talked ourselves blue in the face about flexibility, being a good sport, listening and considering other’s ideas. He’s mellowed a bit w age - and he’s better w friends and teachers than w family. So, my advice is to keep modeling and talking about how to lose gracefully.. and when this horrible time passes, encourage friendships and playing w others. He’ll learn it best from peers. 

RE: 5 year old hates to lose! ()

A lot of people recommended board games and I totally agree! Board games are a great way to model how to win or lose gracefully. Pick some cooperative games where there are no winners or losers, and also some easy games where there is a clear winner or lose (if you only play cooperative games then you son will never learn). Avoid games that are super frustrating (I'm looking at you chutes and ladders!) or very complicated. For a 5 year old, memory games are very fun, and the memory games come in many different versions (we had a Marvel Superheroes version). Games of chance are also good, because he has an equal chance of winning against a grown up. As a parent, you can model losing by allowing your son to win sometimes, and when you lose, say "Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose!" and/or congratulate your son, and then ask for a rematch. You should sometimes win also, and then say the same things. Allow him to ask for a rematch instead of breaking down and being upset. When your son goes back to school, he cannot win all the time against his friends, so I discourage allowing him to win all the time. He needs to learn to lose, play the game, lose, and still want the play again. This is a super important life skill. Good luck!

RE: 5 year old hates to lose! ()

You've gotten some good advice on how to handle this.  I respond only for perspective.  This is totally, totally normal.  He is five  At this age, kids are all about themselves.  They are (in their own minds) the biggest, the strongest, the smartest, the boss.  Of course he expects to win.  That is his job description.  The answer is not to avoid competition -- life is often competitive (sports, auditions, school admission, jobs, you name it), and kids need to learn how to try and also accept they cannot always win.  Your son's competitive spirit is a great characteristic, and will serve him well if properly channeled.  You can model graceful losing, talk about it in calm moments, set up expectations before you start a game (if you lose and lose it, no more game).  All of these will help eventually.  But like so many things, those lessons will take time to take.  

My older son was crazy competitive, and would lose it if he lost.  "It's not fair," he would wail.  We had two mantras -- "It's fair, it's just not fun" and "it's ok to lose, just don't lose the lesson."  He grew out of it eventually.  What did it?  Maybe some of the things we did and said.  But mostly time.  Playing on losing sports teams.  And chess, where he learned to shake hands with his opponent at the end of the game, and even review the game together to see where one or another could have played better.   He still hates to lose, and works hard to avoid it.  That crazy competitive spirit has served him well -- he is a chess Grandmaster. 

So hang in there, keep playing with him, handle the melt downs.  Like so many things with parenting, you probably will look back on this and smile.  

Sam's Mom

RE: 5 year old hates to lose! ()

Hi, we have gone through the same thing. My son was 6 when Covid hit, and it got kind of bad with temper tantrums. Without realizing it consciously, we started avoiding winning so we could avoid the tantrum. We tried talking with him about it but that did nothing. What worked for us was not letting him win. The tantrum would happen, and we would walk away instead of engaging with the tantrum. That really helped. We started out small. One way to make it so we weren't letting him win but he didn't lose all the time (because we're grown ups and can usually beat him) was to give him a handicap if he wanted, or if he had already lost a couple of times. At first, I would always ask him if he wanted a handicap, and then he could choose. That helped him not feel so bad when he lost, if he had chosen not to have the handicap. Now I only offer a handicap if he has lost a couple times at things that day already. A handicap could be dealing a Draw Four Wild card to him in UNO before dealing the random cards, having only 3 game pieces instead of 4 to get Home in Sorry! or Trouble, getting a head start in a race, starting Memory with a couple of pairs already, etc. I also praised him for things in the game he lost (e.g., in soccer after losing -- good game, I really thought you did a good job when you scored that goal that went right past me; or in chess -- you played really well, I noticed how you were planning your moves really carefully. I'll bet you're going to get better and better at this). Now he never has a tantrum from losing, and just gets sad or frustrated if he loses multiple times in a row. It was really hard at first, and now much much better. 

Oh, and I notice some posted about cooperative games. We tried that to no avail. Our kiddo turned them into competitive games. ;)

RE: 5 year old hates to lose! ()

Please let his feelings be (among other gentle, modeling-based tactics haha)! I read this article last night and then saw this post, so wanted to share. I was especially touched by the last paragraph:

Acceptance heals

Trusting, accepting, acknowledging, validating, and empathizing with whatever our children feel is what allows the feelings to be healing. As always with children, their emotions and behaviors are only the symptoms. What they need help with is the cause. Our acceptance creates the sense of emotional security that mends the feelings at their source.

When children feel welcome to process their emotions, they do so more readily. At the same time, they’re assured that they have us on their team rather than pointing a finger. Through our acceptance, patience and gentle modeling of good sportsmanship, they eventually learn to lose graciously, because they don’t take it personally.