Parenting Dilemmas: Lisa and Beau

Parenting Dilemmas: Lisa and Beau
Dr. Phil talks to a woman who wants to lose 50 pounds before her wedding.

"My 5-year-old son is a sore loser," says Lisa. "Jordan will do anything that it takes to win, even if it means cheating. Whenever we begin playing a game, he starts by announcing quite loudly that he is going to win." He'll even growl if he spins a bad number on a game's spinner!

Her husband Beau explains, "When Jordan doesn't win, he pitches a fit, he clenches his fists, he turns red, he takes the board, and throws it across the room." But he doesn't see a problem with his son's behavior, saying that "a game is a metaphor for life" and "a winning attitude" will serve Jordan well. He explains, "I think it's healthy that he links so much pain to losing. I want Jordan to win at every single thing that he does." In fact, Beau often lets his son win on purpose so he can "experience the feeling of winning over and over and over again, and link pleasure to it."

Lisa thinks Jordan's behavior is a problem, and asks for Dr. Phil's input. "I'm nervous about letting him be on a team because I'm worried that he will be a sore loser and not be able to show good sportsmanship," she says. "How can I teach my son that winning isn't everything, and that doing his best is the most important thing?"
Lisa clarifies her position. "I think he can be successful at life without being number one at everything. And he needs to learn now that sometimes other people are going to win. And that's OK. He can still have fun and enjoy himself without having to win every time," she says.

Beau reiterates: "I want him to believe he can win. I don't expect him to win every single time he plays or whatever he does, but I want him to have a belief that he can."

Dr. Phil tells Beau, "You understand that if you allow or endorse him to win by cheating ... that's not really winning. If he wins by cheating or just being willful about the rules of a game or life, you're cheating him out of that sense of accomplishment, that sense of mastery, that sense of an earned reward."

Dr. Phil recalls an experiment where students mastered the material at hand 100 percent of the time in what was called "success only learning." Then, when the students were brought back into a normal environment where they didn't perform flawlessly, they weren't able to cope. "The first time they didn't get 100, they freaked. They went into meltdown, they had anxiety attacks, they didn't know how to handle adversity, they just came completely unglued, withdrew from the process and did not like it all," Dr. Phil explains.
So, Dr. Phil tells them, "If you let him know that winning is joy and losing is pain and that he can throw fits and tantrums when he doesn't win, he may get the wrong message and get the wrong expectancy set. And I'd hate for him to think your regard for him is conditional on him winning all the time instead of making a good effort. You need to really convey that to him, and when he gets upset, say, 'You played a good game. You really made some good decisions. We had a lot of fun and we'll play again and maybe you'll win next time.'"

He adds, "Is it OK to let him win sometimes? Sure, we all do that. But you also have to let children know that they have to begin to raise their game each time along the way so they learn to win instead of just claiming it."