As I finished my third game of Pengoloo with four year-old Sam, I was reminded of all the social skills as well as concepts a child learns while navigating a game–staying focused and engaged, learning to win and lose graciously, following directions and taking turns.

We had played a few rounds, Daddy came home and Sam aptly explained all the directions to him. I was proud that our new endeavor of playing games was going so well. Then all of a sudden, when Daddy “stole” a penguin off of Sam’s iceberg (which is a tactic to win), a frustrated Sam cleared all the penguins off his iceberg, ending the game. He didn’t like to lose.

Besides the parental discipline that followed, we took the opportunity to “teach” using our language. I modeled, “I’m frustrated  when I lose,” and “Good job, Daddy” when he won. We were a little more successful the next day at making our way through a losing situation.

It’s hard work teaching kids to be gracious when they lose. A few years ago, I had a five year-old client who could not bear to lose. Since I use games a lot in therapy as reinforcement for a good production or correct language structure, you need to be able to win and lose if you work with me. This little boy got so mad when he lost that his mom had to intervene and he left the room. She was clearly embarrassed.

Try modeling a phrase that will help your child navigate a hard situation. Sometimes as you are modeling an appropriate thing to say–“I don’t like to lose.” “I’m frustrated but I will keep playing.”–as they listen to you, they stop the inappropriate behavior and it gives them something positive to imitate. Language can help with behavior.