Why Losing is Important for Children
Losing can be tough. As adults with responsibilities, the real-world demands our success in more ways than one. Finances, family, and work, to name the big ones. With the burden of winning on our shoulders, we take on the world and teach others how to do the same. This creates an ambition toward winning that becomes a part of our lifestyle. Accordingly, children also have the inherent desire to be winners at everything they’re involved in, be it small or big. But what is the importance of losing? In this article, we discuss why losing is important for children, and how we can encourage a more positive outlook toward it.
What Makes Losing Hard
As kids grow from pre-school age to grade-school level, they learn to follow a set pattern of rules instead of making up their own as they go along. These hard-rules, of course, also set the groundwork for the potential of losing within a system that everyone has agreed upon—and thus begins the challenges of losing.
One psychological reason why losing is so taxing is explained by a phenomenon known as negativity bias. This considers that our brains and bodies tend to focus more on the bad things in life than anything else. Several scholars published a report in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology highlighting the brain’s reaction to negative information against other forms of information. In short, there is more electrical activity in the brain’s neocortex when interfacing “negative” things vs “neutral” or “positive” things (think pictures, thoughts, etc.) This includes negative self-images as well.
On top of that, losing is almost always a much deeper experience than ‘the simple fact of losing’. When children lose or perform a task poorly, it can invite a feeling of insecurity and failure. If this pattern of failure continues to reoccur, it begins to feed a greater state of dejection and self-doubt. This cycle of self-belittling is the greatest threat to any “loser” who makes attempts at winning. The good news is, it doesn’t have to be. With the right attitude, losing can become the greatest ally on the road to development and overall success.
How Losing Can Benefit Children
Now that we understand the problem, the first step is to address the problem. Empathize with the difficulties of losing, because we’ve all been there before. Be aware and witness their reaction to the loss, and ponder what the deeper feeling might be. If there is an outwardly expressed reaction (which there almost certainly will be), address the child or group with calm and understanding. Be sure to listen to what your kids have to say. Accept that they might feel heavy with the experience of a passionate loss, and justify their emotions with your attention. Denying, ignoring, or overlooking the child’s true feelings will only make things worse.
After you’ve given them time to fully accept their feelings, shift the focus to a more positive setting. Remind them that there is no such thing as losing, only learning which begets improvement. Every challenge is a lesson, and in a way, there is more opportunity for growth in a loss than a win. Remind them of their next attempt. Remind them that they’ve gotten better and that they will continue to get better so long as they try.
Now can also be a good time to be honest and address any issues. Take some time out to analyze the situation without blaming. For example, if your child loses a ping-pong match due to poor performance, speak with them about what could have been improved. Instead of coaching them, help them arrive at the answers themselves. Ask questions like “what could you have done differently?” or “how do you feel about your posture during that game?” This will subconsciously remind them and reinforce within them that they are on a learning journey for which they are responsible for their own progress.
Most of all, provide a safe space for their growth and always guide them toward taking the next step forward. Whenever they fall short, encourage their potential for achievement. When they don’t know how, remind them that they just don’t know how yet, but that they are on the way. Set future goals and help to cultivate a growth mindset within your individuals. Lastly, be sure to celebrate resilience in spite of small or big, beautiful or ugly, win or loss—that is how we make a friend out of losing.