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How to teach my 6-year-old good sportsmanship?

Asked by Female, 32, Married
Hi, I have a 6 year old son. He is a good extrovert child, makes friends easily and like to play with everyone. However, lately I have noticed that every game he plays (be it badminton, race with kids, Ludo at home), he just likes to win it which is good in some way, however, what worries me is that he gets upset and angry when he looses it or not able to win. He is a child and at learning stage so winning part should not get that heavier/overpowered in his mind? and I am struggling to make him understand that its ok to loose sometimes and that's how we learn. He listens to me whenever we talk and It works for a day or two and then I see the same situation back again. If he is not winning he just walks out of the game or shows anger in one or the other way. Is this something common at this age group? what is the best way to handle such situation and ensure he plays with sportsman spirit? I fear if he keeps doing like this then he may loose his friends and grow up with such stressful feeling.
Answer
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Chandni Gandhi
Counselling Psychologist

Dear parent,

Its amazing to see an active parent like you who is concerned about developing healthy attitude in your child towards competitions, to get down to solution I believe it is important to understand it first.

I often feel in our society we end up conveying mixed messages to our children about competition, on one hand where we want them to learn about enjoying the process of competition and focus on dealing with failure in a healthy way, be it games or studies, on another we want them to succeed at everything and be achievers. It is important that we get some clarity on this by reflecting on what do we want to convey our children and if its consistent throughout, messages we convey cannot differ for studies, games and other things in life.

Coming back to your 6 year old, from my experience with children, it is extremely common, so you might wonder, what makes it so common? And then how to handle it?

Child at 5-6, is learning to be independent, you will often notice them communicating things like I want to eat on my own or wanting to wear their own shoes, and clothes etc, even in games, by wining , most often they get sense of competence. Hence for many children it becomes tough task to understand failure. Children this age usually express their emotions through physical means, like hitting, throwing things, or crying since they have not fully learned to express themselves through words, so keep calm at that time and once they stop doing it, talk to them about the same, and without advices, give them chance to speak their mind about the game.

Playing games which does not have results helps them in enjoying process. Ludo, badminton and race with kids, are games essentially designed for playing to win, so at the time when you want to teach the child to focus on process, it might not help, games like punching on bag, lot of unstructured play, where usually children ends up making their own rules would help in teaching them enjoyment of process.

Stories are another great way to convey your messages to children, finding out stories and reinforcing it time and again will have long term impacts, it will also help to refer back to these stories during games, helping them co-relate stories to real life situations.

Watch yourself as a role model, your words and actions have more impact on children then you can imagine. Convey what you practice so it does not confuse them.

Hope this helps :) if there are any further queries, please feel free to write back

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