Winning and losing: Training our kids to succeed at life

Be it in talent, resources or what appears to be luck, there is always someone better off and worse off than us. How do we help our kids learn to strive while also being kind to those on both sides of the inspiration scale? To truly become good sports in life?

  • Show examples of people behaving well when both winning and losing. A few examples from food/cooking shows are Nailed It, Food Battles with Bobby Flay, and the Great British Bake Off,which are each appropriate for family viewing. Nailed It features bakers given impossible tasks, trying and still having fun while making their disasters. On the opposite end, the British bakers are still given crazy tasks, but have practiced and have the skills to succeed, but are gracious when others do better. Bobby Flay does a great job of making those competing with him come out as the hero every time, win or lose. This is quite a shift from his early days on Iron Chef.
  • Pay attention to exposure to good and bad sportsmanship—in sports, on social media and in real life. School PE/Health classes feature focus on character, as do the YMCA youth leagues. As much as this is taught, kids are often surrounded by far more examples of bad behavior—often on display by peers and adults. In addition, explosive behavior is rewarded online, and on TV, which accidentally teaches our kids that negative choices are not only acceptable, but can grant them status. When we see those around us making negative choices, talking through what might be a better reaction in situations can prove to be even more meaningful. 
  • Realize what we are modeling. How we interact with everyone from family members, to co-workers, to cashiers shows our kids how to act in everyday situations. In addition, communicating with your kids about why you are showing extra grace in tough situations will help them realize that is what your expectations are for them in their future. 
  • Talk about times you blew it. Humans aren’t perfect. Just as we talk through examples of when we’ve done well, admitting that we could have done better helps us not set our kids up for the unachievable expectation of perfection. Giving them examples of how you made it right after you blew it are tools they will certainly need in their emotional toolbox of resources.
  • Demonstrate positive failing. That may sound confusing, but how we demonstrate the way to respond in a loss has huge implications for our kids. It could be how we react when we get a traffic ticket, stumble and fall, walk out of the house wearing two different shoes or a co-worker gains the position we wanted. Owning our choices, finding the humor in situations or demonstrating grace in loss are all lessons are kids are soaking up like little sponges. Watch them act just as we did.
  • Consider what we are giving our attention. If you love to watch outlandish sparring on reality TV, do you watch it around your kids or save the viewing for a time they are not present? A little escapism can be okay for all of us, though isn’t great for kids, as it teaches them this is a behavioral option. As teens gain access to this content, discussing with them about what acting like this in real life would do to their future is a critical conversation. We sometimes forget that kids are more black and white thinkers and don’t realize there are shades of gray within the “reality” of reality programming. 
  • Story-tell with your kids when situations present themselves. Can you share about times when you’ve been a gracious winner or loser in a competition? Rooted for a friend who won the spot you wanted? It’s not about pretending that losing doesn’t hurt. It absolutely does. Though, how you teach them to channel that hurt into perseverance can help build amazing adults for the future.

Together, our efforts will help our kids be ready to take on the world with a positive approach. Thanks for your efforts each day at home to model these choices.