Working on losing with a nearly 7-year-old
October 18, 2015 1:12 PM   Subscribe

My nearly-7-year old is having a very difficult time losing. Any suggestions?

My nearly-7-year old 1st grade boy is having problems with losing. There have been some family changes recently and we're working through those, but I'd like some specific advise about this. I will also say that given that there are big some family changes right now, harsh advice like "make him lose" probably isn't in the cards. He also had some anxiety issues as a smaller child that we worked through. Behaviorally, this child was an angel. I can count on 1 hand the number of fits he's ever had. He is generally obedient. For the last few years there has been an increase in the number of times he needs to be asked "please get your shoes on" sort of thing, but nothing extreme. He generally listens.
Examples of losing issues:
- Any board or card game or game-like activity (homework) that we play results in frustration when he doesn't win. Today for example, we were playing a simple card matching game (no skill, all chance) and when I would get a match, he gets angry (growls, scrunches face). I'll say "hey, in this game we're both just trying to do as well as we can." He also will cheat at CandyLand, especially if someone else gets a card (again, chance!) that pushes them again. I'll tell him that no one likes playing with a cheater.
- When playing an iPad game (soccer or whatever), if the opposing team scores a point, he squeals and hits the ipad. I'll tell him, if you're going to get angry like that, we're not going to use the iPad. (Note, iPad time is generally just for long car/plane rides and maybe 15 minutes here or there on the weekend). I have taken away the iPad for real.
- On his own soccer team, he gets very mad if the other team scores a goal. This has gotten better as the season has gone on. But yesterday his team was matched against a very good team and he marched off the field after the other team scored 3 goals. We had to talk him into coming back "your team needs you" but he begged the coach to let him swap down to the "B" team game where he dominated. This is complicated by the fact that he has recently become very good at soccer, is far better than the rest of the team, scoring 10+ goals a game. People have asked us to have him try out for elite soccer, but given his behavior, I say no way. I tell him that it is good to lose because the next win will be more sweet. I'll say that it is better to play against better teams so he becomes a better player. His dad tells him that no one has a perfect record.
- He also does individual sports (martial arts, etc.) and that is generally fine.
- He went to a professional men's soccer match a month ago - and he really loves the local team - and had a total meltdown when the opposing team scored. I wasn't there so I don't know the details of what happened.
- We went to a professional women's soccer match a few weeks ago. I figured that he had no connection to either team, so it might not be so bad. But I was wrong and he was totally overtaken with emotion when the team he chose to root for didn't score and eventually didn't win. My sister got him to channel his energy into clapping, and that worked for a short period, but overall it was no fun. He was literally crying, shaking, etc. He is never physically violent during these episodes though.
- He is obsessed with sports scores. He wants to know them, memorize them, etc. I could care less about sports. He dad likes sports a lot. I don't put them on TV. His dad does. If it is a game that kid is really worried about, he will ask that it not be put on TV and he will just ask for score updates. I always say things like "I'm rooting for both teams."
- He (smartly) isn't doing anything sports-related at recess at school. I suspect this is a coping mechanism.
- He is also a little obsessed with any points at school. They have various discipline/reward systems on individual, table group, classroom, and grade level things and he is constantly telling me how his table is doing.
- Other related things include me "correcting" him - he'll read the word tasting as trying and I'll whisper "tasting" and he'll yell "I SAID TASTING!"
- He gets fairly easily frustrated with homework, but it seems to be within the normal range for boys his age.

Based on my observations in his class and at his sports activities, the behavior overall is beyond normal, although I've certainly seen kids who are much more extreme.
I have spoken to his therapist about this and got no feedback other than to let him have opportunities to control things - like pick an activity or a snack or whatever. I may bring this up again to the therapist or start therapist shopping again. There is also the option of chatting with the school counselor.
I keep on trying to play games with him to work on this. We also frequently talk about issues with losing.

I'd love to hear suggestions - specific games, things to say, strategies, that may help. Thanks.
posted by k8t to Human Relations (31 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I gave my son a break from all the winning and losing stuff (and me a break from all the conflict) by playing non-competitive games in which all the players work together for a goal. We liked several made by Family Pastimes.
posted by artistic verisimilitude at 1:17 PM on October 18, 2015 [6 favorites]

At that age (and well beyond), we gave our son a break from games, period. Some kids just don't do games well. It's not a crucial skill. The losing will be learned in other ways, and he'll likely be fine.
As to the soccer, perhaps lie a little low for now, and see if his coping skills improve over time.

Just for comparison, our son regularly threw stuff.
posted by Namlit at 1:29 PM on October 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

You're doing exactly what I hope I'd do, FWIW. I am not a therapist, but you mentioned family changes. One thought that occurs to me is he's modeling his behavior on his father's, except his father (presumably/hopefully) filters or mutes these kinds of responses more.

Remembering my kid's behavior at that age (and to a limited extent my own at that age), kids tend to be overly zealous for whatever behavior they've seen modeled, or to put it another way, act the way some authority figure has shown them to act (but without a lot of balance to it). So maybe his father has put some emphasis on teams winning, being on a winning team, etc. At that age I might have seen some grownup punch an armrest on a chair in momentary annoyance at "the other side" scoring a goal and, at least for a time, imitated that behavior, only on a bigger scale (like smashing something) To make sure the grownups saw me.

To be honest, while I've never been that excessively interested in sports I've been one of those who was a little down on the whole "let's not be too competitive" mantras, until my kids got into high school band. And I've had to listen to parents of a sophomore complain that their precious is ONLY 3rd chair - to say nothing of the schenanigans one parent will pull on another to get some job in the booster organization they want. So yeah, it's a problem. It's a behavior that children see more than we might realize.

It struck me that you say he does well on individual sports - I'd see nothing wrong with channeling him into that until this resolves. Not sure I'd change therapists YET, but I'd at least keep bringing it up.
posted by randomkeystrike at 1:39 PM on October 18, 2015 [6 favorites]

Can you introduce more games that don't have a solid win/lose structure, or where everyone has to cooperate to reach an end goal?

Maybe this is a function of you having a boy, but it feels like he is getting exposed to a LOT of sports. Sports are good and healthy and a perfectly OK interest to have, and it's cool that he has natural athletic aptitudes. But, frankly, I'm glad that my parents also put me into activities that have no competitive element (art classes, for example), and that I also participated in things like scouting that aren't about aptitude at all.

I'm also wondering if it wouldn't be possible to put him in a sport that is a little bit less structured? It seems unusual to me that, at six, your kid is already in a sports landscape with A and B level teams, elite leagues separated from the typical recreational stuff, etc. Is there a sport in your area that doesn't have quite this level of focus put on it? Because, dang, that is a lot of pressure for a first grader to be under. He needs to be in a sport where the goal is just running around and having fun, not "you didn't make the cut" or "your team has a losing record" or whatever.
posted by Sara C. at 1:40 PM on October 18, 2015 [15 favorites]

I remember being frustrated with losing at games early on. It's hard to tell how direct the connection is, but I've realized over the years that some of my other problems stem from the fact that one of my parents used their position as the adult to ensure they always won every argument or disagreement and to ensure that their preferences always took precedence over mine, by for example simply making up facts to win an argument or "prove" that their preference was objectively best.

I think I realized this was unfair, since it contradicted the way my other parent and school experiences taught me to treat others, but I probably didn't have any way to articulate it or even really process it in my own thinking.

So, just an explanatory thought - maybe someone treats your son this way, even just a sibling or schoolmate, and he's mixing up his feelings about being forced to lose in other situations with losing at a game or as a matter of chance.
posted by Sockpuppet Liberation Front at 1:42 PM on October 18, 2015 [3 favorites]

I wouldn't worry about it too much. Kids go through phases. As they mature they also develop emotionally.

I've never been fond of "consequences-based" discipline so I am not sure if it would work to try to reason with your child: "if you have a tantrum because you lose you cannot play soccer anymore."

It might instead be better to avoid scenarios where your son is going to be put into the position of having to confront defeat.

If he really wants to play soccer, let him do so. If the coach let's him on the "B team", why not? If the coach doesn't want to, explain to your son that the coach doesn't want to. And then let your son choose whether or not he wants to play at level.

My main point is that this too shall pass - your son will eventually mature emotionally.
posted by Nevin at 1:44 PM on October 18, 2015

@Sara C, he LOVES sports. I was basically like, whatever, about sports. But he loves them in this strange way. His school is pretty sporty though. The soccer isn't really A/B, it is that 7-year-old soccer is 3 on 3, and so they split the team into 2. The coaches always try to distribute the better and worse players between the two sides and frequently some swaps are made at half time to even up the teams. But this week, for some weird reason, the opposing team's coach asked to split them into A/B and our coaches were like, ummm... I guess since it is the last 2 weeks of games. Does that make more sense?
But yes, there are more elite leagues. He is in the middle ground soccer league. The lower level is school-based and we did it last year and it was basically all of us parents bringing the kids to a field one day a week and they ran around aimlessly and then scrimmaged. His league this year is slightly more organized but still with parent coaches. But then there is the elite stuff that I never thought we would ever consider, but other parents keep asking us if we're going to take him to the try outs. We're not.
posted by k8t at 1:48 PM on October 18, 2015

Oh also, we've been in the "this is just for fun, we're not keeping score" sports and where all adults are in agreement that we let the inning run long so that every kid gets a hit or that we don't care that the coach gets closer to the kid to pitch the ball or whatever, and we've learned that by the time they're 6 or 7, they're keeping score anyway AND the majority of parents and kids are tired of "fun" sports after having their kids in these activities since age 3 or 4 and want their kids to start learning the rules.

It is a strange age right now in terms of athletics. You want them to be exposed to new things and have fun, but they also need to start actually listening to the coaches, following the basic rules, etc.

He is about to age out of his karate class (age 3-6) and is supposed to move into the next age class (I think 7-teen?) and the sensei isn't sure that he will be able to listen and obey like the older kids do. (And I don't want him to be a distraction to the older, more serious students.) Yet I sit through the 3-6 year old class and I see the 3 and 4 year olds rolling around the floor and not listening and I think "why am I paying $100/month for my kid to have to wait for the sensei to re-direct a 3 year old?"
posted by k8t at 1:56 PM on October 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

Some of these behaviors are very normal for a 7 year old boy, just a big amplified.

Here is what I would do:

1) Stop playing games with him. You are his mom, not his buddy. Encourage him to find things to do on his own.
2) Only have puzzle type games on the ipad, for the protection of the ipad.
3) Give him more things in his life that he does have control over. Less team sports and more time alone playing in the backyard, collecting bugs.
4) Get him into scouts! A few nights camping without mom or dad will take the edge off really fast.

Please don't change his therapist right now. When a child is already struggling with control issues, any major changes can make things much worse. Do things gently and back off as much as you can, until he levels out a bit.
posted by myselfasme at 2:02 PM on October 18, 2015 [4 favorites]

Again, though, is there some other less competitive not sports related activity he could participate in? Karate isn't a team sport, but yeah, once you leave the baby class there are belts and sparring and winners and losers.

What about piano lessons or something? It's something that involves the skills you want him to build (listening to a teacher, following the rules, learning a skill), but isn't really competitive per se.

I'm not sure if this is a gender thing or what, but it's suddenly occurring to me that my parents had me in comparatively few competitive activities as a child, and they certainly didn't seem to struggle to find hobbies for me that weren't winning/losing based. It was mostly music, art, dance, scouting, etc.

FWIW I really learned to lose when I was on a soccer team that managed to lose every. single. game. for an entire season, though clearly that's not an option with the activities in your area being so damn competitive. I mean, the Karate sensei not wanting to promote him along with the other kids in his age group? Dang.
posted by Sara C. at 2:03 PM on October 18, 2015

I may be way off base here, but reading between the lines, are you and dad separated? And is your son perhaps sensing some tension/ competition between you and dad? (No judgement if so; kids are waaaaaay more sensitive to these things than adults usually give them credit for, so it may not be possible to shield him from conflict entirely.)
posted by Cheese Monster at 2:26 PM on October 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm curious about why the therapist hasn't discussed the issue of resilience [APA] with you. I'm not a therapist, but I've taught psychology and juvenile justice, and developing resilience [] is a big deal [].
posted by Little Dawn at 2:26 PM on October 18, 2015 [3 favorites]

It sounds like some anxiety or other big feeling taking over. I wouldn't pull him out of activities that he enjoys as a punishment for getting angry. It's ok to get angry, but it's not ok to hit the iPad. Maybe it's time to do that modeling of feelings we do with toddlers. "I am so angry that the heating bill is higher. I want the lowest heating bill. Darnit." (Pointedly not losing self-control, but making your angry face.) Also, have you tried talking to him about it when he's not angry and letting him come up with his own strategies?
posted by stowaway at 3:06 PM on October 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

My smart, sweet goddaughter was like this at 7 and it lasted several years. If she lost a game --or if she saw someone else win a prize, say, that was only possible for one person to win -- she would melt down completely and sometimes not recover enough to join other people for hours and hours. What struck me about your description of your son is the fact that he, like my goddaughter, was also extremely "angelic" in behavior. Co-operative, wanting not to be disapproved of, not throwing fits. And, probably needing to be "good" to fit in smoothly with adults, which can be a common trait of being an only child, as is my goddaughter -- if you're naughty as an only child and get in trouble, you're "alone" in a way you're not if you're grouped with other sometimes misbehaving sibs. The intolerance for losing is a facet of this same perfectionism. (As a teenager my goddaughter got really upset if she got less than an A on anything in school.) What her smart mom did was, as many people are saying, taking away the stress of any competitive games -- they were completely off limits for several years -- and, eventually, continually try to remind her in many ways that (though she didn't have siblings to be naughty with) she didn't have to be perfect.
posted by flourpot at 3:08 PM on October 18, 2015 [4 favorites]

You might try to distinguish between losing at games of chance, losing at games which are team-based, and then losing when he himself is bested. Even as an adult I can feel my emotional reaction being a little different in each case and as a little kid it might be a little confusing. You might want to script his experiences a little differently for each case.
Games of chance, for example, are really frustrating when they are being taken seriously - it wasn't until I was old enough to see randomness for what it was that I was able to keep it in perspective, and that was when I decided that games like War and Candyland were "stupid". If they are still frustrating to him (rightly so, I agree little buddy!) just don't play them. Maybe start him on "non-baby" games like simplified poker or spades or something where there's a little room for good decision making. Then you can praise him for doing well with the luck he has which might ease him into being more gracious with a bad streak.
Games that are team-based can be really difficult for an individual achiever, especially one in which the skills are mis-matched. If you want to stick with soccer I think you need to seriously think about putting him on a team where he will be more in-the-group. I also think that while team skills are good for kids, having every sport being team-oriented is not necessary on top of which having team sport fandom being introduced. So maybe you might want to introduce sports that are more individual, like the karate mentioned above. About that age I was also dabbling competitively (for a little kid) in skiing, skating and gym, some of which I brought into team sports later. A little more experience with forgiving himself for his own screw-ups might make it easier to be more generous with the screw-ups of others. At least it helped me.
Finally, games which are dependent on his own actions - frankly this is I think the gold-standard of being a good loser - and these games are a little lacking in his repertoire. Individual achievement sports (like karate) will be good if the levels are real and not just everybody gets a trophy. A game of HORSE with you or his dad could be good, especially if you can model good winning and losing. Around that age my nieces and nephews got really excited by playing memory games, word games, Scrabble, Hot-potato, HORSE (as mentioned above) and other such-like activities with me because they could honestly beat me on occasion (even when I wasn't playing after wine with the grown-ups) and if I won I tried to do it by being silly which made it go down easier. I recall it really was a phase with all of them to learn how to compete well, and it pretty much lasted until double-digits. Then they ignored me until they were old enough for the grown-up table and games after wine, so ce la vie... But they all turned out well.
posted by dness2 at 4:12 PM on October 18, 2015

Get him into games of skill (Go, chess, etc), remove games of chance entirely, get him learning materials appropriate for his level, and then teach him to look at losing as a learning opportunity and also a necessarily evil if he wants to get better. Teach him to actually analyze his own mistakes so he can correct them.

For sports, I'd go ahead and let him try out for the elite team, but focus that he needs to be a good team player, to learn how to be coachable, and that he's there to learn. I'd also explain to him that playing on the B team is what's calling "sandbagging", and it's not fair to the other kids and also doesn't reflect well on him, because good players want to play against other good players so that they can get better themselves. Keep stressing that for everyone, the path to winning consistently comes with a lot of losing, a lot of self-control, a lot of learning from mistakes, and a lot of being coachable. If his dad is a knowledgeable soccer fan, when they watch games together, when your son gets upset about the team he's cheering for being scored on, have dad walk him through the defensive breakdowns or really exceptional offensive play that resulted in a goal. Seven is actually old enough to start thinking in those sorts of terms. If dad's not that knowledgeable, make it a bonding thing to start learning about it together.

He wants to win. That's fine; it's great, actually. Teach him he needs to earn it, part of which is learning how to lose well. I agree with flourpot about the perfectionism of only kids, but I think it will be ultimate productive to try and harness it in a positive way than to try change him or worse, burn him out of his natural drive for achievement.
posted by The Master and Margarita Mix at 4:30 PM on October 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

Given that this behavior is extending into settings where other people are losing, it sounds to me like this is less about losing per se and more about perfectionism and need for control that is stemming from anxiety and possibly depression and becoming problematic in its degree and intensity. If the family circumstances you mention are the sort that could make him feel like his life is out of control, I think it's even more likely that he's seeking out that control wherever he can.

If that's the case, the behavior you're seeing is more of a symptom than the primary problem. Going back to the strategies you've used for anxiety in the past might be helpful. There's a book called Parenting the Perfectionist Child that I haven't read but which might be helpful as well.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 5:15 PM on October 18, 2015 [12 favorites]

I am a mother of a now 40-year-old son who's highly competitive nature came at us out of the blue when he began playing team sports at the age of five. I'm talking about standing on the soccer field watching in horror and disbelief as my sweet, calm child threw a huge tantrum after his preschool team encountered their first lost soccer game. I didn't even know he kept score. Some kids are just made that way, I think. Luckily, my son had several male adults in his life that helped guide him through it.

There are several lessons he needs to learn in the next five years or so. First, that there are always players better than him, always will be. For this, he needs to play at or above his ability level, the elite competitive leagues will actually help with this. Next, that his desire to win can be channeled into developing team-oriented goals. He needs to figure out how to contribute to a team to get to that win. And last, he's a prime candidate to develop leadership skills, learning how to get his teammates to contribute at a high level.

For me, parenting a highly competitive child meant learning which team-oriented values were important to me, figuring out the best environment to put him in to learn those values, and spending the next ten years reinforcing those values. Because I can tell you from experience, he's always going to be competitive. It's your job to focus that energy in the positive way that will benefit him the most.
posted by raisingsand at 5:23 PM on October 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

Dad of a nine year old son here. Son loves games and loves sports. Is very good at games and very not good at sports. I have spent many afternoons dealing with tears at the soccer field, the baseball field, at the playground, etc.

But back to games. My son always loved to play games, and he loved being good at games. He went through periods where losing was very hard for him. I always took the opportunity to explain, "learning how to lose is really important. Losing is hard, but you have to be able to lose if you want to play. So it's important to learn to lose well. Plus, you want to get better, right? And the best way to get better is to play people who are better than you. That means losing. So get used to it. That way you get to keep having fun."

I disagree with all the people telling you that your son should stop playing games, or should only play noncompetitive games. If your son likes to compete, he'll find ways to compete. Like someone else said above, my son and his teammates always kept score obsessively, even when the coaches did their best to forget how many goals were scored by each side. If that's who your son is, great. It will stand him in good stead. But explain to him that learning all the rules and all the strategies are good, but learning how to lose well is also very important. It won't be easy, and there will still be tears, but if you can get him to treat his relationship with losing like another game, over time he'll figure out a way to beat it and win.
posted by alms at 6:17 PM on October 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm wondering how he talks about it during non-meltdown time? What insights does he have? What defenses does he use? How does he recall his internal state?

I feel like knowing the answers to these things will help people help you brainstorm strategies.
posted by The Noble Goofy Elk at 9:48 PM on October 18, 2015

I think The Elusive Architeuthis is spot on with the comment about perfectionism and control stemming from anxiety.

As a child, I associated losing with not being good enough. My father had this wonderful habit of snapping "If you're not going to do it properly, don't bother to do it at all!" As a kid, it made me think that I should be perfect at everything and rather than lose or fail, I ended up simply not trying at all. Or if I did try - and I failed (unsurprisingly!) - instead of a tantrum I would dissolve into tears because I just felt THAT BAD. My earliest school reports note that I was an unusually emotional child. When I learned to hide it better ("No-one likes a sook! You're such a bad loser!!") I became a withdrawn, depressed one instead.

Please speak to your son's therapist as your first point of contact. Myselfasme's comment about change and stress is also spot on.
posted by ninazer0 at 9:53 PM on October 18, 2015 [3 favorites]

He is about to age out of his karate class (age 3-6) and is supposed to move into the next age class (I think 7-teen?) and the sensei isn't sure that he will be able to listen and obey like the older kids do.

Could you put him in aikido rather tan karate? Aikido is not competitive and half of the time your kid will be receiving the technique they're learning, so it's always 50% "winning" (that is, being "attacked" and performing the technique) and 50% "losing". There's also an emphasis on breathing and keeping a calm mind.

(There are two main kinds of aikido dojos in my experience: those that are focused on breathing and form, and those Steven Seagal type ones with "strength training" and other macho stuff. Try for the first kind)
posted by sukeban at 12:21 AM on October 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

The main goal of playing games is to have fun. The winners are the players who have fun. (The losers are the players who don't have fun, but you don't have to mention that.) If we all have fun, we all win. The biggest win is when everyone has fun.
posted by pracowity at 1:10 AM on October 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

I was like this as a kid too, and it was absolutely from anxiety and depression and most importantly low self esteem. I wasn't into sports but I would often try to cheat or change rules at card/board games with family members. I was aware enough to know that I shouldn't do it with friends, but I felt that family members would not be likely to just stop playing. I was also that kid who always one-upped in imaginary games even with friends until I woke up to that, too, being problematic as far as friends wanting to play with me. I wasn't ever mean to anyone per se, I just wanted to be good, and had no way to measure that internally except against others.

Other related behaviors: I would often give up on something I was not immediately good at, or just stop caring about it if I couldn't stop doing it for some reason (I would do it... apathetically.) That was my coping mechanism. I haaaaaaaated group work because it was often used in subjects I was good at (language arts, social studies) and the other kids weren't on my level - I wanted our projects to be the best, and no one was cooperating with that goal!

How does your son feel about things he's not good at? Does he care about them? Or does he ignore them like I did?

Honestly: I'm still not great with losing as a team internally. I avoid team games/sports/activities because my anxiety about my performance and others' performances is too great to enjoy it. I don't show it, but I'm unhappy inside the whole time.

The popular solution for these things is to make kids experience and desensitize until they're comfortable in these situations, but in my case, it just never happened. Success may look more like getting your son to the point where he is emotionally mature enough to simply conceal his unhappiness, recover from it without incident, and avoid situations that are likely to cause it.
posted by gloriouslyincandescent at 2:18 AM on October 19, 2015 [3 favorites]

For the board games and computer games, ie low stake activities without other people present, where he is just expressing anger in facial expressions and noises, this is OK - we need to get a handle on the emotions we are feeling before we get good at reigning them in.
Trying to suppress anger often doesn't work, the trick is feeling it without expressing it in inappropriate ways.

Ways to practice that might include, how does that make you feel? Naming emotions is really good for emotional regulation. So, if he says angry and upset, that is good progress. Ask him HOW angry he is, on a 1-10 scale.
Tell him you will count to 10 and he should try feeling MORE angry for 10 seconds, really screw up his face, and then at the end, let the anger go, and tell you how angry he is now.

The skill you are trying to build is that it is good to know how you are feeling, but that doesn't mean you need to ACT angry. It is just a feeling, and will pass.
posted by Elysum at 4:51 AM on October 19, 2015

I think those saying it is about control and possibly anxiety are spot on.

Don't change the therapist, as she may well be onto something re control. I am just going through some real worries with my son too, and talking to (my own) therapist last week I realised that his extremely worrying change in behaviour (or rather steep increase in a particular odd/annoying behaviour) is a coping mechanism he found for himself for issues he could not otherwise cope with. She said to look how I could support him with grappling with the underlying issue (in our case the near death of his dad and now severe illness), rather than focussing on the annoying behaviour he exhibits. The problem behaviour itself was not in fact new, but the the magnitude is. So my son took something he had in his "repertoire" and can control (in his case food intake), and uses it to fight his fear of uncontrollable death.

re games - there was a point last year when he understood suddenly much better what chance really means, we played a lot of board games involving dice and he spent hours rolling them and it gave him better grip on grasping the concept of chance.
My mom uses another approach when he is with her playing board games: she asks him should we play toddler style (=I let you win) or adult style, accodring to the rules and open to chance/luck. He can choose, as the mood suits and it works well.
posted by 15L06 at 5:28 AM on October 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

I was like this as a kid. Don't know if this will help in your case, but the lessons my parents tried to instill in me that I think really helped were:

1. If you're doing something as a hobby/pasttime, you should be doing it because it's fun and enriches your life. If it's no longer doing that because you're focused on winning over and above having a good time, you should stop doing that and find something that you actually enjoy. They never pulled me out of an activity as a punishment, but did sit me down to really talk about it and say -- hey, it's ok if hobby X is not for you, ultimately it's your decision.
2. Being genuinely happy for the accomplishments and achievements of others. This was a hard lesson to learn (whoa boy was it ever!), but I am so happy as an adult to have this quality. I work in a highly competitive industry where I am often in competition with my close friends. I know many people who end up bitter or lose friendships over these issues, and it is so much nicer to be able to feel genuinely happy that a friend has accomplished something they worked hard for (even if that means I didn't get it). It's all about looking at life as positive-sum rather than zero-sum (even if in individual cases maybe it really is zero-sum --- but, ultimately, it's your choice how to perceive it!). My parents mostly taught this through a lot of modelling -- for example, if a sports team we were rooting for lost, they would make a point of saying, "You know, I'm sad about that, but look how happy the other fans are! And the players worked really hard to win." etc. etc. A little heavy handed but with repitition I think it can sink in.
posted by rainbowbrite at 7:23 AM on October 19, 2015

As a follow up to my previous comment, which was much snappier than I prefer to be on AskMe - the links lead to a variety of resources and reassurances related to the development of resilience in children.

From my view, there are always going to be things that we can't control, and resilience (like other reactions) is much more within the realm of what we can control. My experience as a family law attorney makes me a bit sensitive to therapists sounding like they're blaming a parent for circumstances beyond the parent's control, like a separation or divorce, so my cross-examination reflex kicked in to focus on what may be a serious indication of incompetence in the therapist.

Based on what you've described, it sounds like instead of working on supporting the development of all-purpose coping skills, the therapist is suggesting that you double down on the exact point of suffering for your child - coping with a loss of control. Adding more practice with being in control seems like a short-term fix (no tantrum when they're in control) that doesn't address the larger issue of adjusting to a world where we can't control everything. Overall, I think talking to the current therapist about your concerns is a really good idea, and therapist shopping may also be helpful for assessing other approaches.
posted by Little Dawn at 3:49 PM on October 19, 2015

You guys are all great. Thanks so much. Will come back and favorite many answers. This is great food for thought. Thank you wonderful MeFites.
posted by k8t at 8:23 PM on October 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

I would agree with a focus on non-competitive sports, i.e. not competitive sports where people are supposedly "playing for fun" or "not keeping score" but actually sports in which individuals aren't really competing at all. My parents also emphasized team sports when I was a kid, and I was required to play a team sport every season, and I never enjoyed it - I've always been the sort of person who enjoys things like running, rock climbing, skiing, or kayaking more (not in a competition or as part of a team!). It sounds like he may truly enjoy competitive sports but maybe he just needs that not to be a focus for a little while, and he can return to focusing on that once he gains the needed emotional maturity.

I noticed you mentioned a lot of specific things that you say to him when he behaves this way. I thought you might be interested to learn about the research highlighted in NurtureShock that suggests that praising kids for their performance is a bad idea because it discourages kids from wanting to do things they aren't naturally excelling at. This research recommends specifically praising a child's efforts rather than their actual performance to show them that what you care about is how they play, not whether they win or lose the game.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 8:59 PM on October 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

I haven't read the thread, but the book Mindset, by Carol Dweck, might be helpful. It's an exploration of how a difference in mindset affects outcomes for how people approach working, growing, winning, and losing. The main conclusion is that individuals who view talent as fixed feel that they are constantly being judged, and any challenging task is a challenge to their self worth or self conception. On the other hand, kids with a growth mindset tend to view challenges as opportunities to learn, and tend to seek out harder tasks. The book has suggestions for how parents and coaches can develop a growth mindset in their children. I'm not sure if this will be directly relevant, but some of the material might be helpful.
posted by HighTechUnderpants at 12:53 PM on October 22, 2015

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