My Sore Loser

I love my son.  My son sucks at losing.  It's really over the top.  He kicks over game boards, throws cards, get so totally pissed off when he doesn't win or things don't go his way in a game, it's ridiculous.  He'll stomp away, arms crossed, face dark. promising to never, NEVER, play another game AGAIN!  His emotional outbursts can sometimes hook me in.  Tonight was the perfect example...

Ben, Ian and I were playing this awesome game called Fish Sticks.  It is a really fun strategy game that we hand't played in a while.  Ian picked it out and we got it all set up.  Everything was moving along and we were all remembering how the game is played.  Before too long, Ian got to the point of not being able to make the move he wanted to make.

"NNNNNNNAH!!!"  He shouts, throwing his game pieces on the floor, knocking over the pieces we had so far put in the middle.  "I don't want to play this anymore!"

I tried to keep my cool as I racked my brain for the perfect thing to say...  "Alright, I guess we're done."  I said, trying to stay neutral.  "I guess we really shouldn't play games with you anymore," oh jeez, here I go, "because you know, you are not always going to be the winner."  There it was.  My words of wisdom.  How many times have I said this to him?  "You were the one who picked out the game.  Its a really fun game."  I couldn't stop - I knew he wasn't hearing any of these words, and yet they kept flying out of my mouth.  At least my voice was calm...  "Wah, wah, wah, wah, wah..."  I'm sure I sounded like all the adults on the Charlie Brown movies to Ian.

By now Ian was kind of curled up in a ball on the couch.  He wasn't carrying on or anything, which was good.  I asked Ben if he wanted to play a card game with me, I thought it would be a good idea to model playing a game for the fun of playing.  Ian went into the other room to build legos with his sister. He came in after  while, asking to join the game.  We said, "Sorry, we already started..."  He sat there for a minute then left to return to the legos.

This happens so frequently,  Ian gets super mad about a game not going his way.  I am desperate to help him.  I want him to enjoy playing games, regardless of if he wins or loses.  I feel like, if he only wants to win, he is set up for disappointment so much of the time.  Some people believe that if a child wants to win, they will work harder each time to achieve that outcome.  But what about a game of chance?  Games that aren't based on anything but what card you happen to draw?  I want him to practice using his disappointment muscles, but with more grace.  Ha!  Now who is the one setting themselves up???

I revisited a book i enjoyed called The Way of Boys:  Promoting the Social and Emotional Development of Young Boys by Anthony Rao.  He is a psychiatrist who sees young boys who have usually been diagnosed with behavior issues, but who he believes are just on the extreme end of typical boy behavior.  He writes about how boys learn to handle winning and losing.  Dr. Rao says, "Young boys really do need to win more than the average number of times.  Remember that games are inherently stacked in favor of the older, more experienced player.  You can't teach him the social skills that surround board games if he is feeling discouraged and so frustrated that he won't play at all."  He also writes, "When kids lose to an adult, its devastating.  When a boy plays against his older sibling or a friend, the game won't be rigged, and he has no choice but to endure the outcome.  When he plays against his parents, let him be the master for a little while longer.  As he grows up, he'll want to make the game more challenging, which means risking losing every once in a while."

This really speaks to me.  When Ian loses, he gets so emotional, and is accessing a part of his brain that doesn't allow him to learn the lessons of how to be a good sport.  He is totally taken over by how he feels, and it isn't good.  Especially when he is playing against the people who love him not matter how big a meltdown he has...  With us, he feels safe enough to let his emotions take over.  So how do we help him develop those disappointment muscles???  Well, I have a plan...

I am going to make time to play more board games and card game with Ian, just the two of us (normally it is the whole family playing).  I am going to let him win lots of the time and then slowly get some wins in myself.  I am going to compliment his skills when he wins and also share how it feels for me to lose.  I am going to be with him during his disappointment when he loses, or a move doesn't work out the way he wants, perhaps share a time when I felt the same way.  I will be practicing not getting hooked by his emotional outbursts, while he struggle with the feelings of disappointment.  After a few weeks, we will play some games as a family and see if any progress has been made...

Keep your fingers crossed!

Smiles ~ Casey