Ask the Experts

Q: “My Son Is a Terrible Loser”

Losing at a game, whether cards or football, can send some children into full-blown anxiety that manifests as rage. But avoiding competitive situations is not a solution.

Q: “My son normally expresses emotions very well, but when he loses a game he becomes completely irrational, claiming everyone has cheated, the refs were all bad, the world is against him. It’s very hard for my husband and me not to become angry with his behavior. What can we do?”

A: This is an interesting question because this is anxious behavior that is often interpreted as oppositional or bad behavior.

I knew a boy like that who was a very smart, high-functioning child, but he could not tolerate failure of any kind. He could not play team sports because he could never be on the losing team. He could not play board games. His family adjusted their life to make sure that he was never in a competitive situation in which he would lose.

This is a big pitfall for loving, caring, helpful parents — to try to protect the child by avoiding the anxiety-provoking situation, such as not taking airplane flights, crossing the street to avoid a dog or creating elaborate and lengthy ways around separation. This is not the way treatments work and it’s not the way to help children, but it’s an easy trap to fall into.

In this case, the parents need to help their son understand that this is anxiety. They could say, “It doesn’t need to make you so anxious to lose because we all lose. None of us likes to lose, but all of us lose some of the time.”

[Self-Test: Does My Child Have Generalized Anxiety Disorder?]

This content came from the ADDitude webinar by Eileen Costello, M.D., and Perri Klass, M.D., titled “Worry Less: Managing Anxiety in Children and Adolescents with ADHD and Learning Differences”, which is available for free replay here.