Learning to Lose

When you play a board game with your family, do you find yourself getting a sinking feeling if it looks like your child is not going to win? Learning to lose is a critical aspect of resiliency. For some people, gracious losing comes naturally, and for others, its a skill that must be learned, practiced, and internalized.

All of the debate about the value of a competitive nature aside, the fact remains that losing graciously is important because no matter who you are, or how good you are at what you do, you will not always be successful, and it is those that recover quickly and pivot that have the greatest long term success. 

For a child on the autism spectrum, losing gracefully can be particularly difficult because it may disrupt an internal sense of organization. I want to win, I tried my best, I SHOULD have won. This rigid sense of SHOULD HAVE/MUST is something that therapist Albert Ellis, founder of REBT Therapy calls "Musty Thinking" (He also refers to it as "must-erbation". 

One of the activities that I do with my social skills groups is called "Lose to Win". It's a simple activity, but the teaching moment comes quickly, so the facilitator needs to stay on his or her toes and be sensitive to slight emotional shifts in the participants. 

  1. Begin a discussion about being a good loser.
  2. Brainstorm some phrases that can be used to congratulate their partner such as "nice job!" "High five!". 
  3. Select a simple, fast paced game like "rock-paper-scissors".
  4. Give each participant a small pile of candy. 
  5. Each time someone loses, they must give their partner positive feedback.
  6. When they do they may eat a piece of candy.
  7. After game play, ask "so who lost the most!" 

Suggested Reading: The Kids Book of Good Sportsmanship