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Help! My Kid Is a Sore Loser!

Written by Phong Van-Liaw, M.D., F.A.A.P. on May 19, 2018, 9:17:00 AM

Everyone likes to win – who doesn’t? But for everyone that wins, there’s someone that loses, so teaching your child not to be a sore loser early on is important. Throwing tantrums if they lose, quitting when they’re behind, or losing their temper if you beat them are all pretty significant signs that you’ve got a sore loser on your hands. These issues that need to be addressed sooner rather than later. Not only that, but sore losing can also lead to things like cheating or being a boastful winner, and who would want to play with someone like that? 

They’re Watching You

Your child sees, hears (and often repeats) everything you say and do. This can be bad for obvious reasons – I can’t tell you how many times parents have said to me, “Well. I know exactly where she learned that word,” or “He’s started yelling at the football games on TV. I’m pretty sure he got that from his dad.” While there are obvious drawbacks to this little sponge stage of their lives, you can use it to your advantage as well, because if kids can pick up your bad behaviors, they’ll pick up your good behavior and habits, too. Be a good role model for them when you’re playing games, even if they’re not directly involved. Show that you are a good sport whether you win or lose and they will likely notice and replicate it. Congratulate your opponent if they win and celebrate the good moves or plays they make. Equally important, if you win, be gracious about it.

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Be Proud of Their Effort

It’s important for your child to know you’re proud of them – win or lose. This means that while they obviously want your praise when they score a run, make a basket, do well at a track meet, or win a family board game, it’s also equally important to praise their good efforts when they lose. In fact, going overboard with praise when they win can work the opposite sometimes and create bad winners, so like anything else, it takes balance. Let them know that you’re proud of how hard they worked, how they never gave up even when it was tough, or the way they listened to their coach. Let them know you noticed how hard they threw or how focused they were. If they win graciously or lose with good sportsmanship, it is especially important to praise those behaviors. Let them know that their efforts and the way they carried themselves during the game is more important than the outcome. If they know you are proud of them win or lose, it removes their belief that they need to win in order to gain your respect or love. 

Don't Let Them Win

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There are several reasons it might be tempting to let your child win. First and foremost, you want them to feel accomplishment and the satisfaction of winning. Second, if you’re dealing with a sore loser at home, letting them win is often easier than dealing with the tears and the tantrums that will come if you win, but letting them win isn’t doing them any favors. Letting them lose not only allows them to practice being a good loser, but it also shows them where their strengths and weaknesses lie. They learn how to win with strategy and they learn how to win gracefully. Allowing them to win all the time gives them a false sense of their abilities and doesn’t let them get used to losing, which can sow the seeds of being a sore loser down the line. Don’t let them win. Not only will it make them more balanced, it will also give you the opportunity to praise their efforts rather than the outcome. 


Dr. Van-Liaw is a board-certified pediatrician who cares for patients at Kelsey-Seybold’s Fort Bend Medical and Diagnostic Center. In addition to Pediatrics, her clinical interests include Neonatal Medicine and Dermatology.


Topics: sore loser, sportsmanship, poor sport

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