Teaching Aspergers Children To Lose Gracefully


Jack is attending speech therapy and we are trying to work on games without having a meltdown. If Jack is losing or sees another person is about to beat him at the game he completely loses control and has a meltdown. We have tried random games, board games (i.e., snakes and ladders). His meltdown would last a half hour before he can get himself back into control. Do you have any suggestions? He is obsessed about winning rather than playing for fun.


My Aspergers granddaughter (Kayla) and I played games most of her life when she was younger. The one thing I decided early on was that I would not "let" her win. I wanted to teach her that there are winners – and losers. I wanted her to know that sometimes she's going to be the winner, and sometimes her opponent will win. That's life!

Some games are games of chance. So when we played, she had the same odds of winning as I did. Other games are games of skill. When we played, I didn't go easy on her. I wanted her to play her best, and if she scored more points than I did – that's great. If not, I expected her not to behave like a sore loser. Of course, that's easier said than done. Many times when she lost a game she would have a tantrum and say that she did not want to play anymore. Other times she would beg me to play "one more game", hoping that she would win the next game for sure.

So, when you play games with your Aspergers child, you will have to deal with him losing and possibly not taking it so well. Here are a few suggestions on how to teach your child to lose gracefully:
  • Choose an activity that requires cooperation as well as competition (e.g., freeze tag, red rover, or duck duck goose).
  • Focus on how well your child is improving in a given game and not on the fact that they lost.
  • If your child is the loser, offer to play again. He still may not win, but at least he gets another chance to try.
  • Make it a rule that the winner has to say "good game" to the loser.
  • Play games of chance to illustrate that sometimes winning depends on luck and not skill (e.g., games like “Candyland” and “Snakes and Ladders”).
  • Play games that last forever, like Monopoly, in which your child (and you) will run out of steam before anybody wins or loses.
  • To make the loser feel okay about losing, agree before the game starts that the loser will get a prize. For instance, picking the dessert for dinner (so there is actually some benefit to losing). Don't do this for every game, however.

By around age 4, children have many more skills than they did when they were younger, and they know it — and therein lies the rub. They're developing a sense of what they can do and often expect a lot of themselves. When reality clashes with that sense of their ability, they can take it hard. They're in constant motion, seeking out adventure. Especially around ages 3 and 4, children are very imaginative in their play and want to believe they're capable of much more than they really are. Rather than facing the harsh reality of their own limitations, they 'pretend.'

In a game where a boy has convinced himself that he's the greatest slugger of all time, “striking out” in the middle of his fantasy can bring on a collapse of his exaggerated sense of self, leaving him confused and uncertain. Losing, then, at anything from T-ball to Go Fish, may have less to do with the game itself and more to do with the sudden unpleasant reversal of expectations and emotions, which are on a bit of a hair trigger anyway.

Expect your child to be unhappy with losing – and realize that each time he does, he is developing emotional muscles that he would not be developing otherwise.

The Aspergers Comprehensive Handbook


Hailey said...

I commented on another post about board games but thought the same idea may apply here. my husband and daughter are Aspies. The only board games we can play are cooperative games from Family Pastimes, a canadian company. You take turns but you have a common goal. Either you all reach it or you all don't. It is not hard to ensure you reach it. We slowly introduced losing events and it went well. These games focus on problem solving and strategy. Our favorite is Granny's House. We stick to the games for the age 3 and up range even though my daughter is almost 9. As of two years ago she could play these games with other kids and it actually went well. www.familypastimes.com can direct you to a local retailer or you can purchase online. I am no expert but this has helped us enormously with turn taking, mind-reading and rigidity.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Hailey... We started with the games where the whole group wins or the whole group loses, like the Busytown Board Game. When we moved to games like Puppyopoly, I had to remind my son every time that we picked up the cards from the middle of the board "sometimes it is good, sometimes it isn't." And if he had a meltdown, I had to tell him that he needed to calm down or we wouldn't be able to play. (Of course, this only works if they want to play more than they want to win, but hopefully that will come.)

Anonymous said...

im not sure how old he is, but my son was the same way n we put him in wrestling. couple losses/meltdowns later n he stopped. he knows its the effort he puts into thing now n sometimes people are just better.

Anonymous said...

My son is 8 and he still does this. When he has a meltdown, we take every game away, sad thing is this only works for maybe a week and we start over. So we haven't figured out a solution yet, not sure if there is any. Maybe just have to wait for him to mature.
46 minutes ago · Like

Anonymous said...

We are going through the same thing. Our son's passion is baseball and everything about it. He is 6 and plays little league. In ball games he accepts wins and losses. It's only in board games or video games he has a problem with losing.
46 minutes ago · Like

Anonymous said...

Still have that issue ,and even at As/adhd play share group,my 12 yr old couldn't handle always losing.Sometimes this is hand eye coordination etc,but even tho brilliant,not always the best at games.I always make him take a step away when I see first sign of agitation and try to head off before meltdown starts.

Anonymous said...

That's common in children with Asperger's....have been working with my son too....but have been stressing on taking part.

Anonymous said...

My son does the same thing. I always talk to him before a game about how its for fun rather than winning. I also tell him that he can not act like that ad of he does we have to stop playing. Won't work for everyone but it helped us out a lot!
5 hours ago · Like

Anonymous said...

try games that do not involve winning or loosing? my son would not play any games, he was not intereested past one or two turns! But I would try to focus on games that don't have winning/ loosing such as hide and seek? there really are no winners in that one.

Anonymous said...

perhaps a social story on what to say to the winner? what would he like to hear when he wins? "Awesome game, your strategy was great. I hope we can play again sometime." and the winner puts the game away.
2 hours ago · Like

Anonymous said...

agree with social story and we found the same problem with our 4yr old son until we started playing Uno with him. The games are quick and easy and he got over not winning much quicker so he could come back to the table for the next game. Then he was able to transition to board games after that. Snakes and Ladders was always the hardest, very emotional with the ups and downs but now he is ok with it after lots of Uno games!
2 hours ago · Like

1234 said...

Thank you for all your comments and ideas in relation to the games that can be played in order to tackle the dreaded winning/losing scenario!! I have found it most helpful and will probably use the Uno games for a while before attempting Snakes and Ladders again.

whatnext? said...

I did a few things with my son: 1. Together, he and I devised sentences he could use to congratulate the winner when he lost (‘well done’ ‘Good job’ etc) and wrote them on slips of paper in one colour, then phrases to use when he won (‘well played though. Better luck next time’ etc) in another colour. Near the end of the game,I remind him of which phrases to pick up and read/use, and praise him hugely when he uses them correctly - almost like a fun game post- game.
2. Recently, I’ve been preparing him to lose by pausing during the game to remind him gently that he might/it’s probable that he’s going to lose, and that it’s fine.
I think for him the emotional switch from excitement and anticipation to disappointment when he loses is really sudden and hard, so it bears softening. I just don’t think he ever sees it coming without a reminder. He’s almost eight. It’s an ongoing project, but he’s doing well.
Good luck to you :-)

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