Monday, June 24, 2013

We Have to Let Our Kids Lose, Fail, and Experience "Being Out"

Today in my Let's Move, Palo Alto summer class, I decided to play a game with the kids where they would have to experience being out.  Many educators, parents, and coaches try to avoid games and situations where children experience a form of failure for many different reasons.  They all have good intentions in mind, but I believe this is doing children a disservice.  If a child never experiences losing, especially at a young age, he or she will never be given the chance to develop the skills necessary to emotionally deal with loss, disappointment, or an inevitable failure.  Today in class, I gave all of my students the opportunity to deal with being out.

It all started because the California sunshine was nowhere to be found.  Instead, we had rain.  Rain in June is not something this sun-loving California teacher took into account when planning the day's lessons.  Rather than running the fun relay games I planned outside, my three classes remained indoors.  After our usual ten-minute warm-up session of jumping jacks, jogging around the room, butt-kickers, high-knees, and just all around silliness, we came together as a quiet group to discuss the next game.  I decided to play walking/dancing musical chairs with the kids.  After the explanation of the rules, we had a discussion about what to do when you become out.  The discussion went a little like this:

Me:  I've participated in tons of triathlons, swims, and running races in my life.  How many do you think I've won?

Jose:  Five?

Me (trying not to laugh):  No.  Not even close.

Ella: Ten?

Me:  Wow!  Thanks, Ella, but no.  I've actually never won a race.

Cameron:  What?  Why do you do it?

Me:  Well, I love to race.  I know I'm not going to win.  I don't race to win.  I race to feel good about myself and to keep my body and mind healthy.

(Students give looks of understanding and nods)

Me:  In the next game we're going to play, you will most likely not win.  In this game, you will be out.  There will be a point in time when everyone in the game loses and becomes out.  How do you typically feel when you're out in a game?  (lots of hands raise)

Michael:  Sad because I hate being out.

Anna:  Angry.  Sometimes I just want to yell when I don't get to stay in a game.

Me:  It's ok to feel both sad and angry.  These are normal feelings.  It's not ok to behave in an aggressive manner that may scare or upset someone when you're sad or angry.  What we need to think about is how we deal with these emotions when we're out in a game.  What should you do when you become out or when you lose?

The kids in class then proceeded to give each other some thoughtful suggestions about how to deal with sadness and anger from being out.  One suggested to breathe deeply.  Another simply said being out is ok because then you can move to the next activity.  I do have to point out that once a child is out in this class, he or she then moves immediately on to another activity.  My goal is to keep them all moving, and sitting to watch the game would be counterproductive.  Another student mentioned that he always congratulates the winner when he's out because that's just what we're all supposed to do.

Me:  These are all great suggestions.  Do we have any others?  

Tara:  (shrugging her shoulders) When I get out, I just smile and say oh well.

Me:  Let's try that!  Let's just smile and say oh well when we're out.

For the next 20 minutes, instead of angry, sad children losing in a game, I observed cheerful children playing game and losing gracefully.  Child after child lost, removed his or her chair from the game, and moved on to the next activity in a calm manner.  It was beautiful!

Some children do not need to be explicitly taught how to lose, but many do.  I truly believe our conversation in class planted a seed that will hopefully grow into a life lesson for a lot of my kiddos.  Being able to lose gracefully is a skill that definitely can be learned.  Let's teach our kids how to do this right away in school.  After all, since we can't protect them from all of life's disappointments, we should at least start to prepare them for how to handle them.

If we do not give kids the chance to experience being out, failing, and losing, they will never have the chance to develop the resiliency skills necessary to deal with and overcome emotional letdowns.  Sometimes in life, we all have to just smile and say, "Oh well."