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Learning To Lose

Featured on the Hong Kong Economic Journal (June 29, 2013)

In the movie Friday Night Lights, we see the football team, The Panthers, trying to make their city’s citizens proud. It’s set in 1988 at a time of economic uncertainly for their city and everyone looks to the city’s football team for hope and pride. The Panthers work tirelessly striving to win the state championships. They not only have the pressure of their coach and the spectators watching, but everyone in their city is watching them, waiting for them to win. They are playing the finals and in the final seconds of the game, they lose to their opposing team. Crushing disappointment hits the Panthers. They bow their heads, they cry, they console each other, they face their defeat as cheers erupt in the stadium for the winning team.

In sports, winners are celebrated, losers are not. At school, top students are celebrated, weak students are not. In life, the best are celebrated, the worst are not.

Children are always taught that they should do their best and strive to be the best. Children are taught to try and be number one. Children are told to try and get first place. Everyone is trying to get their child to be the brightest, the tallest, the fastest, the smartest and so on. No parent encourages their child to be the last or to lose.

As parents, we must not only help our children towards winning but equally importantly, we must help them learn to lose. At some point in time, children will lose. Whether it’s a sports game or a speech competition, a swimming race or a spelling test, children will lose at some time in their lives. And if not as a child, then most certainly as an adult. They might lose a deal, a pitch, a competition or a position.

If losing is a certainty in life, then how are we preparing children to face it?

I’ve heard stories of how children lose in tennis games and burst out crying on the court, children getting a low mark on an exam and throwing a tantrum, or losing a speech competition and blaming the judge for being unfair, or other people for cheating. Or worse still, the parents tell the judge off for letting their child lose! If parents can’t handle their child losing, the child probably won’t be able to handle it either.

So how do we teach children to lose well? Try these things:

  1. First, be okay with your child losing in something. Children aren’t going to be number one in everything so be okay with it. Focus on improvement not just winning placement.

  2. Let your child the opportunity to express his/her emotions by talking about it. It’s ok to feel angry, disappointed, frustrated or any other negative feelings after losing.

  3. BUT it’s not okay to act in ways that hurt others like hitting, screaming, blaming or bad mouthing.

  4. Focus on persevering and positively facing upcoming opportunities.

Losing is a part of life and we must teach children how to learn to lose.


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