Helping Your Kids Manage Their Emotions When They Lose

Father and son standing in field surrounded by cherry blossoms

Helping support your children’s mental health is just as important as supporting their physical health. In a world of continuous stimulation and 24/7 media, it’s important that you are well aware of the state of their minds and whether there is friction or difference throughout their days, as well as what to do to make the ebbs and flow of life smoother.

When it comes to our athletes, the game of life becomes a bit more complex, with validation from winning becoming an important goal. And it’s necessary to have some parental tools to use when things don’t go the way your child wants. Below are 10 ways to help your kids manage their emotions when they lose.

#10: Validate Their Feelings

Coach speaking to children on sports team outdoors

It’s vital to make sure your child understands that their feelings are valid—but this doesn’t mean enabling bad behavior or loss of control. Instead, it means allowing your child to share their frustration, anger, sadness, disappointment and any other big emotions with their words.

Allowing them to do this without shutting them down or dismissing their feelings gives them a space to feel heard, understood, important—and most importantly, not alone.

#9: Make Room for Expression

To help validate your child’s feelings, make sure you create a welcoming environment that creates room for these expressions. That could be a consistent, daily check-in, or just giving them some freedom to say what they need to say without feeling judgement. They should never feel as though they are walking on eggshells with you, or live in fear that they may say something wrong.

#8: Breathing Exercises

We’ve spoken about this in other articles about supporting your teen’s mental health, but that’s because we really believe it is a key coping skill and a tool young athletes should practice.

Help reduce anxiety, frustration, anger, and disappointment by participating in breathing exercises with your child. This shows support, makes them feel like they have someone on their side in the tough moments, and teaches self-awareness as well.

#7: Promote Self-Awareness

Teen athlete writing in journal

Promote journaling. This helps develop one’s sense of self-awareness and provides continuous opportunities for reflection. Not only will this help them with their identity as an athlete, but also within their academic lives and all of their relationships.

#6: Reframe the Situation

When talking about the loss, try to find ways to reframe the situation. Instead of focusing on all of the negative moments, create opportunities to discuss some of the positives.

Did they have a great play in the midst of the game? Did they showcase sportsmanship or maturity on the sidelines? Make sure you slip in ways to focus the situation into a learning experience for the future instead of a failure.

#5: Remain Optimistic about the Future

Make sure your athlete knows that this isn’t the end of the road. There’s always another game, another practice, and another opportunity to play the game. Don’t create negative scenarios in which they feel as though they’ve ruined their future athletic career or success is too far out of reach.

#4: Lay Off the Pressure

In addition to peer pressure, too much pressure from parents can be emotional and mentally harmful to our athletes. And a part of the emotional outbursts, especially after losses, come from the fear of disappointment not just from themselves but their loved ones.

Make sure you lay off the continuous pressure and don’t set perfection as a goal for your athletic teen. Instead, decrease and de-escalate the anxiety by reminding them that nobody wins everything all the time.

#3: Don’t Rub Salt in the Wound

When your athlete is already beating themselves up over a loss, don’t rub salt in the wound. Give them space to process their feelings, and wait until the right time to offer support and encouragement. Never be the voice or hand that discourages or puts emphasis on the mistakes they may already know they have made.

Coach yelling on field during game

#2: Encourage the Positives

Furthermore, help to create balance. For every negative that may be vocalized or criticized by a coach or teammate, raise a positive point. You might bring up something to look forward to in the future, or make sure they know how proud you are of them for their line-drive to third base in the second half of the game.

#1: Communicate

Keep talking. We are big advocates for communicating with young athletes, no matter how independent they may seem or how much talent they have. Make sure you react with love, support, and encouragement. This will help them learn that you are a safe person with which to express themselves.

Creating and maintaining these open lines of communication will be one of the best things you can do for your kids—on and off the field. And doing so while remembering the other points above will help your child develop a healthier attitude towards competition.