by Liwen Y. Ho

“You didn’t say Uno Moo!”

I watched my four-year-old daughter’s eyes grow wide in horror. Chloe had been one move away from winning the game, but now she had lost her chance. Immediately, she threw her head back and began to cry.

Maybe I should have let her mistake slide? I wondered. Part of me had considered keeping my mouth shut. However, I know if I truly want my daughter to do well in life, I needed to allow her the opportunity to deal with loss.

I’ll be the first one to admit I love to win. Winning is exhilarating and often comes with a prize, respect or bragging rights. Losing only brings feelings of inadequacy and frustration. That said, I completely understand why Chloe took losing so hard.

Children in particular have a hard time dealing with loss because they desire immediate gratification. They feel safer in situations that are predictable and work in their favor. Since their identities are still developing, they take losing as a personal blow to their self-esteem.

Seeing that both losing and winning are very much a part of life, it is essential that children form a healthy perspective of competition and of themselves as participants. Here are three lessons that my family emphasizes about winning and losing.

1. Aim for the process. My husband and I want our kids to enjoy the process of a game, not just its result. We teach that overcoming challenges is part of the fun; if a game is too easy, we would lose interest in playing it.

Although our kids gravitate toward games they do well at, we encourage them to also play difficult ones. We offer suggestions when needed, but advise them to figure problems out for themselves. We encourage them to learn at their own pace and to focus on their own progress.

2. Aim to be positive. Competition is more enjoyable with a positive attitude. During family board games, my husband and I compliment our children’s efforts with simple phrases, such as, “You can do it!” At the end of a game, we model being gracious losers by giving high fives to the winner.

We also rejoice when we win, but do so without putting others down. Our son Ethan even invented his own way to express winning graciously by saying, “I win for you!” in hopes of sharing his victory with us.

3. Aim to persevere. When something doesn’t work out for my kids the way they had hoped, I tell them they can always try again. There is potential for growth and improvement as long as you don’t give up. Children who persevere through difficulties gain confidence in themselves and in their abilities. They are better able to move beyond their present circumstances and see hope for the future.

In the earlier scenario with Chloe, my ultimate goal in allowing her to lose was to help her develop perseverance, which the Bible says will lead to character (Romans 5:4). After she lost her chance at winning, she refused to finish the game. However when she had time to calm down, she was ready to play again. I then reminded her of the rule she had forgotten to follow before.

This time she won fair and square and I celebrated her victory (and character development) with her. Since then there have been occasions when she made the same mistake, but she had no qualms accepting her setback and trying again. Now our times of competition are full of smiles, not tears, regardless of the outcome.

Liwen Y. Ho has been a mom since 2006. She enjoys family beach days, chick flicks and blogging about life as a recovering perfectionist at http://2square2behip.blogspot.com.