Raise a Good Sport

Raising a Good Sport

By Jacqueline Mroz

Like most young children, Qi Jiang’s four-year-old son loves to win when he plays games. But, also like most kids, he really hates it when someone else does.

“It’s always hard for him to lose,” says Jiang, of Bolton, Mass., who also has a 9-month-old son. “When he starts losing, he gets frustrated and just stops playing. I try to explain to him that it’s in the nature of playing games that we all lose sometimes, and that we all try our best to win. But he doesn’t like being in a situation where he can lose.”

It is hard for a small child to accept defeat graciously. Since toddlers and preschoolers don’t have the verbal skills or emotional maturity to express their frustration at losing, they tend to have more tantrums when they don’t win. Still, it’s important for kids to begin to understand at an early age that sometimes we win, and sometimes we lose.

“Part of our role as parents is to teach kids how to handle disappointment,” says Dr. Gerard Costa, a developmental psychologist and the director of the YCS (Youth Consultation Service) Institute for Infant and Pre-school Mental Health in New Jersey. “It’s really important for us to allow children to lose and be disappointed at times. That’s how they become resilient.”

If your child is frustrated at losing a board game, for instance, try to be reassuring, but don’t act overly worried that he is upset. Say, “I know you’re sad that you lost, but everybody loses in a game sometimes. It’s not so bad. Let’s try it again.”

You should also tell your child that he’ll be okay if he doesn’t win, according to Dr. Costa, who is also a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. Say, “It’s okay to be upset. But you’ll be fine.” Kids have a tough time understanding failure at this age. They may be angry or sad about losing, and for them, it’s the end of the world. Here are some other ways to teach your child to be a gracious loser:

  • Model good behavior When you lose, say, “Oh, I really wanted to win. But that’s okay. Let’s try again.” When parents take losing in stride, children start to mirror those actions. Likewise, when a parent gets angry when he loses, children will begin to mimic that behavior as well. Just as important, if you and your child are playing a game and he loses, don’t gloat or make victory seem wonderful.
  • Keep it easy Don’t play games that are too hard for your child. Many kids become understandably frustrated and discouraged when they keep losing a game. If that happens, to switch to one that’s better suited to your child’s developmental level.
  • Follow the rules Sometimes young children will change the rules of a game if they find themselves losing. Say, “That’s not a fair way to play. If you can’t follow the rules, maybe we shouldn’t play.” That’s an early and important lesson in how to become a good sport.
  • Keep your cool When your child overreacts when she loses, try to stay as calm as possible so she can mirror your mood. Don’t escalate the situation by yelling; tell her that you know she is unhappy and disappointed, and help her to calm down. Eventually, she will discover that she has the skills to handle losing … without losing it!

Family Fitness Fun

We’ve all heard about the alarming rise in obesity in this country, but more widespread is the epidemic of couch-potatoitis that affects even those who aren’t overweight. Americans have become increasingly sedentary, spending their free time on things that involve no physical activity: video games, movies and TV, the Internet.

The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention recommends 30 minutes of moderate activity a day for adults and 60 for kids. But you don’t have to put your family members on a strict fitness regimen to boost their exercise quotient. Here are seven fun ways to get everyone up and moving.

  1. Step it up.
    Start a campaign to see which family member can take the most steps per day. The recommended number for adults is 10,000, but kids should do twice that amount. Buy everyone a pedometer (you can get them for under $10) and a small notepad to record where they walk and how many steps it took. Compare notes at dinner. You can hold contests or make a guessing game out of it: How many steps does it take to get from the kitchen to the laundry room and back?
  2. Play games.
    The next time you have a family game night, leave Monopoly on the shelf and grab Twister instead. Games don’t have to be sit-down affairs. Go for a round of Wii boxing or play a machine-dance game.
  3. Be a citizen scientist.
    Ever go out and record the colors of courting pigeons in your area? Or count the number of squirrels in your neighborhood? Through citizen science programs, your family members can become untrained “researchers” for a number of ongoing science studies, many of which involve outdoor activity. Visit the Science for Citizens website to see which programs are looking for volunteers.
  4. Do the moonwalk.
    Strolling around the neighborhood during the day is nothing special. Do it at night, and it’s an adventure. After dinner, grab a flashlight and hit the pavement for 30 minutes of walking, talking and stargazing. Be sure to return at least an hour before bedtime or nobody will be able to fall asleep!
  5. Get handy.
    Find a big project that everyone can participate in. Build a tree house, cut and haul firewood, paint a room, restore a piece of furniture. All that activity -- sawing, hammering, scraping, sanding -- is good exercise. Just don’t call it work.
  6. Play tourist.
    See your hometown or nearby city like a visitor would: Take a guided walking tour, visit the zoo, play in the park or go on a hike. Being a tourist always involves walking and physical activity, but it doesn’t have to include travel.
  7. Create an obstacle course.
    Making an obstacle course indoors or out with household items provides two workouts in one: First, you run around snatching up materials (cushions, shoes, sports equipment, garden tools, etc.), and then you run around the course. Your kids will be too busy laughing to realize how much exercise they’re getting … which is what family fitness should be about.
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