When my daughter Nika was 5 years old, she was getting more and more uptight about the winning and losing thing. She was becoming extremely competitive, in a very ungracious way – always wanting to win, being a sore loser and frankly a ‘sore winner’, too, quick to rub it in everyone’s face.
One day, quite spontaneously, her dad burst into a game which ended up being an inspired way to help her loosen up about this.
They were both playing Uno (the card game). Nika was doing an ugly, little ‘I win’ dance each time she won – full of tension and held-back feelings, I can see now. Then her dad won. He took off running through the house, yelling to everyone that he won!! She giggled and ran after him.
It’s the giggles that tell you you are on the right track, when it comes to Connected Play. If the kids are giggling, you know you are onto something, you are close to the emotional rub. Each peel of laughter is them letting go of a bit of tension on this subject.
The next round they played, daddy lost. Nika started doing her (even goofier) version of a victory-lap around the house… her dad followed her and started gleefully shouting ‘I lose! I lose! I lose!’. She – and all of us – thought the whole thing was hilarious. And now everyone wanted to lose (or win or just play a game through) to get to do a funnier-than-the-last-person’s victory or failure running dance. :)
And now, over two years later, I can report that not only was this little game (which got repeated a few times and kind of incorporated into our game playing, for a while) super fun for everyone but it also ushered in with it a new lighter attitude toward winning and losing. It helped bring a change in my daughter’s attitude in playing competitive games with others. In fact, since then, I have been amazed to observe – a few times, now – that not only can she win and lose more gracefully and be a ‘good sport’ about things but on occasions she has been positively, glowingly supportive of other kids when they were having trouble in this area.
For example, a kid once came round who was really tense around losing, in particular, and in fact started to cheat so that she could win. My daughter saw the other girl was cheating but had the maturity to ‘let her’ get away with it and essentially just smiled along, indulgently – without even calling her out on it. Overall, she has shifted in such a way that it is almost night and day and she can now – on a good day, at least – be visibly happy for others when they win. :)
So, yeah, if your kids are getting really stressed about winning and losing and you want to help them overcome this… I’d try some Connected Play first. When you see them getting uptight about this issue and if you are in a place where you can genuinely, warmly find a playful response to what is arising, go for it. Keep it fresh and light. Use this game or make up your own – just remember to follow the giggles. That is the path that will lead to success in helping kids release their tension around how hard it can be to lose and how important it can feel to WIN! Help them giggle those tensions away.