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I have a first born son who is 6 3/4 years old. He is riddled with anxiety interacting with kids in sports and play. When he makes a mistake or his team does not win, he becomes so tearful. He cannot seem to make a mistake without becoming defensive. How can I get through to him that perfection is not necessary or realistic? What can I do to make him more accepting of himself?


Derick Wilder Replied: This is an issue that I see quite a bit in younger children, and it can affect more aspects of their lives than just sports. That is, a naturally competitive child who has not yet learned that he/she will not always "win" can feel a big letdown in other endeavors as well.

I have a couple of suggestions that might be worth trying. One is to look for and cultivate other non-athletic interests he has where he can feel that he is succeeding. For example, if he is artistic, you might want to get him involved in some art classes where the feedback is positive and competition is not stressed as much.

Regarding sports, look for leagues that stress effort and sportsmanship over the final score. It can be a natural reaction for children to overemphasize both "winning" and "losing" in a sports environment, and both can have a negative impact. There are a growing number of programs that recognize this fact and use sport more to teach life skills and build children's self-esteem.

As a parent, let your child know that scoring the most runs does not equate to success and vice versa. And perhaps get involved with him in some friendly games at home to help set the appropriate environment. In addition to sports, this could include board games or other activities in which the entire family could participate. Learning to "win" and "lose" gracefully with family can translate into doing the same on the field.
Posted On 2009-09-25 20:17:56
Mark Borowski Replied: I can relate to your situation and I have found that like most things with parenting, it is probably a combination of the child's personality and how the parents have interacted with the child. There are several things you can try to do, some focused on him and some on you. 1) Continually point out to him that mistakes don't make him a bad person and that you love him regardless of mistakes (then be sure to reinforce that in the little everyday issues like spilled milk and dirty clothes, etc.) Saying it is one thing, doing it is another. 2) Point out some mistakes you have made and how they weren't a big deal or how they actually turned into something fun, positive, or interesting. You may also be able to "have fun" with his mistakes but be careful that he is not too sensitive even to that. 3) Have him answer "What's the worst thing that could happen if you..(made that mistake, lost that game, etc.). Then help give him some perspective and realize it's just not that important. 4) Reinforce the positive aspects of his personality and behavior - ie catch him doing something right. Finally, be sure to positively reinforce when he does not get tearful or overly sensitive to a mistake or a loss. Behavior change is hard work!
Posted On 2007-07-17 13:21:33
Pamela Waterman Replied: First-borns tend to be perfectionists, so, you're not alone. Is there a buddy with whom he likes to play or do these sports, that he can he can share his highs and lows with (and you with his Mom/Dad?) You can read him books (age-appropriate) about accomplished athletes and what they went through (losses, failures, injuries, set-backs due to family circumstances) that were okay in the long run. Does he have a favorite sports team? You can talk about the sports news when that team loses, and how they keep trying afterwards. There are also board games available in many of the catalogs or online that are not intensely competitive - try The Goodnight Moon game from Or, maybe it's time to introduce him to some creative activities: introduce him to Ed Emberley's FunPrint Drawing book that uses inkpads and your thumbprints to trigger fun drawing ideas (at bookstores or There are lots of kits for building, designing and digging for fossils. I also like the possibilities at Lastly, take advantage of times when you make an "oops" to show him that even grown-ups aren't perfect but that you can try again.
Posted On 2007-03-07 12:29:39
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