Want to raise winners? Give your kids a chance to lose
Parents: Quit your coddling!
We parents go to a lot of trouble to make sure our kids win — we hire tutors, we write their papers, we finish their sentences. We even condition them to expect to win by making sure that every 6-year-old who sets foot on a soccer field leaves with a trophy.
It's not that our kids are bad losers — it's just that they haven't had any practice.
The thing is, losing isn't really that big of a deal if you've done it a few times. There's the initial disappointment, the cathartic "it's not fair," and then the regrouping. You look around and see that the world is still spinning, that you are still the same person you were before the game. And you move on. But to someone like Lance Armstrong — who had basically never dismounted a bike without a trophy in his hand — losing might seem like the end of the world, and to avoid it, you might just cheat. It kind of makes me feel bad for the guy.
We like to see our kids happy. We stop short of giving them steroids, but we do a lot more for them than our parents ever did for us. Someday our kids are going to leave and get jobs and have to manage things on their own. Going into a bike race undefeated is scary, but going into life undefeated is terrifying. A little losing now helps soften the inevitable transition later.
If you want your kids to have some experience in losing, try games that you can only win after losing a few times. One of my favorites is called "The Morning Game." The object of the game is to get out of the house with all of the stuff you will need for the next six hours. (I didn't say it was easy.) If you forget your lunch/homework/library book, you lose. But, as a consolation prize, you learn life skills like begging for half a sandwich, making up excuses, and negotiating with the librarian. The player is disqualified from this game the instant her mother arrives at school with the forgotten items. The player who wins for five consecutive days has mastered a game that she will be playing every single day for the rest of her life.
Another good one is called "Where Are My Cleats?" It involves two players, the younger of whom is looking for his cleats. The older player knows where they are (having previously lost the game called "Who's Gonna Clean Up This House Every Day?"), but pretends not to. The older player keeps saying, "I don't know, where do you keep them?" until the younger player finds them and decides that having a dedicated spot for the cleats would be a good idea. Both players will lose during the first few rounds, being late for practice and managing the crankiness of the other. But in the end, both will win.
There's a part of me that wants to turn my kids into serious losers. The kind that know how to say "Sorry I'm late" and "Sorry I forgot." The kind that can deal with running extra laps and leaving the library without a new book. Medical science has proven that it's impossible to die from such losses, but be warned — side effects may include dizziness, nausea, and growing up.