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Teach kids about good sportsmanship

By Nathan Rice

He rolled the bowling ball down the lane, but the ball curved to the right, hitting only three out of the 10 pins. “This is stupid!” he said loudly. “I never win at anything!”

I know games such as bowling can be frustrating, so I let him stew for a moment while he waited for the ball to be returned. He rolled again, and the ball went in the same direction as his previous throw, knocking down only one additional pin. He sulked back to his seat, aggravated and angry.

A minute later, it was his turn again. He grabbed the ball and threw it carelessly down the lane. “I don’t even care anymore,” he stated emphatically. I stopped the game for a moment so we could talk.

Children, like most adults, like to do well in — and win — the games they play. This desire can lead to them becoming frustrated or angry if they are losing or if things aren’t going as well as they had hoped. When moments like these occur, we have the opportunity to teach our children how to be a courteous competitor.

We should begin by empathizing with their frustration. Some of us are more competitive than others, but we’ve all had times when we were frustrated about things or upset when things didn’t go our way. It’s important to remember that they are still growing up and learning how to understand and handle their emotions.

Children can get very involved in the games they play, and, for some, it is the most important thing in the world at that moment. When we notice children becoming upset over a game, we can remind them of the purpose of the game. Taking a brief pause from the game to remind them that they are playing to have fun, that the outcome of the game doesn’t have any consequences, and that sometimes you win and sometimes you lose can help them calm their upset emotions and refocus on enjoying the game.

There may be times when a more direct approach is needed about what is allowed and what is not allowed. “I know you’re frustrated and upset that you’re losing. It’s OK to be frustrated, but it’s not OK to throw the game piece across the room.” Statements like this let them know what is acceptable behavior and unacceptable behavior when they are playing a game. It acknowledges and allows their emotions while setting rules for their behavior. Set your expectations and follow through with consequences for poor behavior or praise for good behavior.

It’s OK for kids to be happy when they win or upset when they lose, but it’s important for them to understand how to be a good winner and a good loser. Teaching them now how to be good sports can help them understand and control their emotions later in life and perhaps even allow them to enjoy more the games they play today.

NATHAN RICE is a Hampton Roads native and can be reached at nrice@abnb.org.