There is a 6 year old boy in summer camp who from what I can see cannot bear to lose in any game. Typically, it takes a lot of calm talking and sitting with him to even get him to participate in the game to begin with. Most of the time we play games that only one person 'wins' which means so many other kids are out of the game too. Also, there are no prizes for any of these games.
I see him kick his shoes off, start to cry, hide under a table, put his hat in front of his face, screaming no and seems to be so frustrated in the fact he did not win. I am just one leader, but some of the strategies used are; sitting down with him and talking him through it, ignoring the behaviour, changing the subject to something he does like, giving him a choice to play the game or not be able to participate in the next activity, timeout (explaining to him afterwards it is not okay to kick his shoe or scream, when he is frustrated he can sit by himself or talk to one of us), giving him some alone time which he does ask for, using free time as a privilege.
When he does win, there is some praise, but we tell every kid that getting out of a game is okay too.
He is a very sweet kid, but summer camp consists of so many games and I don't want to see him getting upset for the rest of his time there. I see that the timeout worked the best because it stops the behaviour right away. Perhaps we can be more consistent with that? Open to all suggestions, hoping to see him participating and okay with 'losing'.
The behaviours you have described are typical of many of the children that CYCs work with. Underlying this incessant need to win is a poor self image. Children like these often equate this "loss" to mean they are less than anything "good". Their self image is contingent upon the number of games they win. I have to be honest, competitive games where children are "out" only fuel this sense of inadequacy. While some children can bear the brunt of these losses because of a positive self image, others such as this little guy you have described cannot. All the talking in the world may not be enough to build up his self esteem. Experiences, positive experiences however will. Are there opportunities for there to be cooperative games that promote team building, problem solving and the like? Praising him for the efforts during this cooperative experience (by describing the skills you see versus- ‘good job’) will provide him with those much needed opportunities to feel ok as well as to prepare him for the competitive games utilized by most camps. Providing him with opportunities to help with the game as opposed to participating may help, however it has been my experiences that this is not enough for him to prove what he so desperately wants to – that is to be a winner.
Being okay with losing suggests that kids have an intact sense of self and confidence that will allow him to endure this losing. He is not there yet and requires much esteem and confidence building before he is okay with losing.
Hope this helps.
It sounds like you're using some good options (except maybe the time out). Try creating some situations for him where one of the leaders can give him individual support as the game is happening. Offering verbal and physical cues about what is happening and what his response or options are when someone else wins. A few small investments in a proactive (e.g. as the game is occurring) rather than reactive (e.g. after the behavior has happened) approach may really pay off. Be careful about time out and isolating him – that removes him from the opportunity to practice the skills he needs. Be intentional about how you talk about him with other leaders to help maintain or change their perspective – for example, "this boy needs support handling disappointment" or "he needs support in choosing how to express his emotions".
Summer camp is the perfect format for him to be learning these social and emotional regulation skills. Keep at it!
Sarah a reframe may be that this is an important opportunity for him to be upset and thus I would be curious how he makes sense of this choice.
Which is the bottom line; he has choice about how he defines and deals with either winning or losing. Our job is not to decide for him how he does this but to empower him to recognize that he has choice.
Boy, this took me back to my 'direct work' days – a very common occurrence. The worse incident was where a 12 year old ran away across a field because he landed on the wrong thing in Candyland.
Luckily he came back . But I still remember it. "Losing" is a big issue with youngsters with emotional problems. It seems to strike them in the core of their being. They are trying so hard to build up a sense of self that they may not have yet. As well, they don't understand the concept.
One of the issues is cognition – to the extent he understands, and how he interprets, 'winning' and 'losing'. Games of chance, where dice are thrown, cards are drawn, that kind of thing, are especially hard for children, especially younger ones, to understand.
So one thing to consider is how games are
- What kinds of games ? Ball games, card games, board games, paper and pencil games, computer games, relay races ??
The type of game and how it's structured may make a
difference in youngster's behavior.
- Who are the players ? What is the age range ?
Six year olds are just getting into the 'game
playing' stage of development so to speak. Much older children
participating may heighten the kind of response he makes – one more way
to feel small and powerless. It could be an issue of 'readiness'.
- There are ways to adapt games so there are 'no winners'. This might be something to try. e.g. musical chairs where kids go around the chairs to the music but there are always enough chairs for everyone. Board games where players don't 'start over' if they land on something. Having a catch rather than playing 'horse' etc.
- Use 'gradualism' with the games. If you have him participate in a game, keep it small, have players his own age, structure it so there are no winners (yet), etc. Maybe find one game, one other player, and you play with the two of them (if possible).
- 'Talking him through' things is of course a positive strategy.
Ask him as well of the array of games offered – what
does he like the best ?
- What other activities does he like ? I'd ask him and encourage him. Skill developing activities where one learns new competencies but don't compete with others.
- Allow him to choose not to play a game. I like the idea of having him sit with you if he chooses not to.
Same with having alone time. (This is very interesting). It sounds like all of this is actually positive behavior – he's working on his self-regulation. If he doesn't feel ready for something or wants his own time to be alone, he's asking for it and needs it. Give it to him if possible and see it as a way of getting his needs met rather than as a 'privilege'.
Don't have participation in the next activity contingent in his participating in a game. All activities are treatment (develop skills, self-concept, self-regulatory skills, etc.) and he will learn skills that may help him 'grow' in the game situation. Of course he needs to be calm and ready for the next activity before he can start. You can talk to him: "I know that game upset you Johnny. I'm going to help you calm down so you'll be ready for swimming, which is next" kind of thing.
You've made a great effort that shows your caring and interest. As I mentioned, giving him free time, having him talk with you, sitting with him, 'talking him through it' – all help.
When he does win, there is some praise, but we tell
every kid that getting out of a game is okay too.
I'd actually avoid praise or at least be judicious with it. I learned to avoid praising youngsters overtly back then and now there's a lot of research on why praise is not always helpful. The youngster may feel he's committed to doing the same thing again and may be afraid he can't and then lose regard. Being matter of fact in the context of warm interest may work better.
Karen Vander Ven
Thanks for bringing out the issue. This is really a big challenge with child care practitioners.
To make a response. First the boy is 6 years old so he is quite young. When you say it takes talking and sitting with him to get him to participate in a game it means a lot to a child care worker. The boy has problems with socializing with other children and playing. My prediction is that the child has not been socializing with children even.
When children start playing with others at a younger age, they are more adjusted, able to handle conflict, can appreciate that they can lose a game, have better communication skills. Secondly, there is need to revise or examine the kind of games we give to our children as other contributes have indicated. A competitive game that makes others win and others lose is not good for children and can affect their social relations and esteem. I believe this is happening in many places and countries we are working in but maybe we ignore them. The purpose of a game must be scrutinized.