No one likes to lose, but for young children just learning how to navigate negative feelings, losing can be an especially big deal. That’s why teaching resilience is so important. Resilience is the ability to “bounce back” from negative experiences, be they losing a game or moving to a new school. Children who learn resilience have an easier time recovering from setbacks and are more likely to persevere and become successful.
Resilience is easy to teach. In their book Socially Strong, Emotionally Secure, Nefertiti Bruce and Karen Cairone discuss how to build resilience both at home and in the classroom. Below are some of their tips on how to teach children that losing is okay.
1. Support and Empathy
When children lash out after losing a game, their emotions are what we see. They might cry, yell, hit, or pout. What we don’t see is why they are feeling this way. Yes, they lost, but why is that upsetting them? Did it make them feel inferior? Are they worried people won’t like them if they don’t win? The first thing to discuss with a “sore loser” is how they feel when they lose. By talking through these negative emotions, parents can provide alternative means of expressing those feelings. If the behavior is rooted in insecurity (i.e. the child thinks his friends won’t like him if he loses) reaffirming his worth with attention and kind words will remove some of that fear. All of these techniques model empathy and provide children with new skills on how to handle their emotions.
2. Different Perspectives
Another way to shift focus from negative emotions and behavior is by looking away from the present problem. Yes, the child may have lost that game, but there are other games to play! Something young children tend to struggle with is looking forward; they only see the here and now, which can at times be very upsetting. But if parents and teachers encourage children to look towards the future, they can recover from their failures easier. Say a child is upset at the end of a board game. She just keeps thinking about how she lost over and over again. If her teacher suggests they play again, he may emphasize the positive: “Why don’t we try another game? This time, you can use what your learned in the last game to try and win!” This kind of thinking encourages perseverance and asks children to think forward rather than linger in the past.
3. Space and Self-Regulation
Sometimes children simply need some time to work through their feelings. When this happens, it’s important they have a few choices on how to handle emotions. A child may need to be alone for a few minutes until they calm down. In this case, having a by-myself-box—a designated area where children can be alone—in the classroom is a great asset. Another option is providing a fidget toy that can calm the child down, like a ball to squeeze or a gel bag to look at. Before the child lashes out, the teacher can say, “I know you’re upset. Do you need to be alone for a bit until you feel better?” Wording it as a choice encourages self-regulation, and next time the child loses and gets angry, he might remember these options before the teacher even needs to ask and take himself out of the situation.