QUESTION: My thirteen-year-old is an atrocious loser at sports.
No matter how much we talk about winning and losing before he plays a game, he always forgets and completely embarrasses himself and us, if he loses.
I've seen him collapse on the ground crying and he throws sports gear around in anger. Even a friendly card game ends up in tears if he doesn't win.
ANSWER: If I hadn't had a child like this myself, I might have been inclined to answer this question differently.
I completely relate to your problem as one of my sons was the same, at the same age – winning was all that mattered to him in sport, in life.
I too, was often embarrassed by his displays of aggression or abject despair over a loss. In one unforgettable display, he kicked a hole in the door of a rental when Australia made an unexpected comeback and beat New Zealand in the netball! No sporting code was spared.
He could always see in hindsight that his behaviour was unacceptable but in the heat of the loss, he seemed completely overwhelmed and unable to stop himself. We talked about his attitude to winning and losing before and after games but he mostly forgot.
I think it was the combination of our nation's expectations to always win, my son's own competitive nature, combined with his immaturity at 13, to deal with his or the country's perceived failure.
I sympathise with you as this doesn't make for easy parenting. I think all you can do is try to role-model good sportsmanship whenever possible, without being phoney – kids recognise phoney a mile off.
When your son does win a game, praise him for attributes other than the actual win, I like the way you passed the ball.
Be aware of your own behaviour; yelling at the referees or screaming at matches will only fuel your son's competitiveness.
When you watch sport together, help your son understand that umpiring calls may go against your beliefs but that's part of the game and acknowledge the skills of players in an opposing team. Praise your son for his good attitude when he shows a glimmer of improvement.
You can also give your son some anger-management tools. Learning to breathe through disappointment or to count to 10 when he feels the rage building up.
This will pass, but it may never completely disappear. To be honest, I'm still dismayed occasionally.
* Mary-anne Scott has raised four boys and written three novels for young adults. As one of seven sisters, there aren't many parenting problems she hasn't talked over.
* Please note that Mary-anne is not a trained counsellor. Her advice is not intended to replace that of professional counsellor or psychologist.