At around age 4, kids start to understand what it means to “win” something. They get quite upset, then, at the prospect of losing, since in Western societies, we start teaching them early on that winning = good and losing = bad.
In the late 1980s, parents and educators decided it would be a good idea to delay the concept of losing until much later. They stopped keeping score during weekend sports and made every game a “tie”. This, they thought, would make everyone play nice together and focus on the fun stuff.
What a cop-out.
By not letting kids lose, they didn’t allow them to feel the disappointment losing brings, but they also didn’t let them identify losing as way to learn and grow.
So when these kids, who are now young adults, started experiencing what it means to lose (i.e. didn’t get in to the college of their choice, or didn’t get the job they wanted) they had a very hard time getting motivated to try again. They were unable to learn from the experience and think about things they could have done differently.
Here’s the problem: we’re too focused on “losing” as bad thing. If we think about ways to make losing “ok,” and even turn it into a learning opportunity, we can help this next generation of kids feel more confident in their natural abilities and see losing as a chance to try again. It’s normal to feel bad when you lose, but it’s also a way to get better.
Some ideas for making losing, or being wrong, in a digital experience more interesting for kids:
• Play a funny sound (think “sad trombone”)
• Show a short, funny animation
• Create a very simple “runner-up” game, like an easy multiple-choice question
• Show the child what he did well
Most importantly, always ALWAYS provide the opportunity to try again. Kids respond really well to the idea of “I’ll do better next time.”