Does this scene sound familiar? You’ve taught your preschooler how to kick a soccer ball, and he’s proud of his newfound skill. Time after time you’ve let him score on you in the backyard -- and he loves to throw up his arms and yell “Goooo-al!” This time, however, you block his shot. The reaction is a full-out tantrum. The ball gets kicked into the shrubs, and the tears pour down. Are you raising a poor loser?
No way, says Richard Ginsburg, P.h.D., a faculty member of Harvard Medical School. But introducing the notion of competition -- whether the game is soccer or Go Fish -- interferes with him learning to play the game.
“Young children don’t even understand the concept of winning and losing until they are six or seven,” says Dr. Ginsburg, who also acts as co-director of Paces, a sports psychology institute run out of Massachusetts General Hospital. They can’t separate themselves from the wins and losses. In other words, a winning score indicates they’ve done something right and should feel good about themselves. A loss is catastrophic. It means they’ve messed up, something they should feel bad about.
“Toddlers and preschoolers just want to have fun, feel safe and feel good about their bodies,” he adds. Here are five tips to help keep your child’s head in the game and not on the scoreboard:
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