I’ve had many sensitive children in my class who really have a difficult time with games where someone is a loser or someone is “out”.
Do I need to teach them that life isn’t fair? I think they already know that.
Do I need to reward them or coerce them to take part in a game they’re not comfortable with? No, manipulating a child to do something they’re not comfortable with is never a good idea!
Do I need to adapt my teaching to meet the needs of my pupils? Yes, that’s my responsibility.
Do I need to also take the needs of other children into account. Yes!
So what can I do as a teacher to facilitate the various personalities and needs in my class? I can ask the class!
Children have wonderful ways of finding solutions and working together once they are given the opportunity and space to do so.
So for the example of the child who doesn’t like it when someone loses a game we need to be a bit inventive.
It’s important to see it from this child’s viewpoint and the fact that they can see it as unfair. And often they are right. Is there a need to create games where only one person wins? Not always!
And so when we came across this in one particular class I asked the kids what we could do as a group because some of them liked having the chance to win while others didn’t like the idea of them or anyone else losing.
As always the kids came up with a great idea to suit everyone. When we played games where someone was “out” instead of that person being “out” they had to do something silly instead like make a funny noise, do a silly dance or tell a joke. They could do whatever they were comfortable doing in front of the group and then they went back in for the next round.
Another solution we came up with was that instead of being out of the game, that player then became a helper or took on a different role in the game.
Activities are meant to be fun and enjoyable for kids. And as adults we may need to get creative from time to time to ensure the enjoyment of the children in our care. We also need to recognise when a child has genuine anxiety around such things as losing.
And while I’m on the subject of losing- it is something that often comes up for Autistic children. It can misinterpreted as some sort of lack in social skills. This is nonsense of course.
When we scratch the surface of this idea that an Autistic child needs to be taught how to lose gracefully we see many flaws in our understanding of the situation.
Again I’ve worked in schools where the Autistic child is given a reward chart and if they respond “appropriately” to losing then they are rewarded. Before I understood my own Autisticity I didn’t see what was so wrong with this approach.
First off, the Autistic child has a very strong sense of justice and fairness so losing might seem unjust to them. That is their perspective and their perspective is valid. It is not something to be changed.
Secondly, who likes losing? I mean, honestly who enjoys losing?
Thirdly, losing in front of peers who already see you as odd, different, strange etc is never fun. Imagine what it feels like to be the child in the class to whom teachers speak differently, who teachers often speak about as if the child cannot hear them. Imagine what it’s like to never be chosen for games at lunch time and to grow up feeling othered, excluded and have low self esteem. Losing a game when you have low self esteem is not the same as losing a game when you feel safe and confident in that peer group.
It is said that Autistic people can’t see things from the viewpoint of others well the way I see it others have a hard time seeing things from the Autistic child’s viewpoint. Autistic children are multi-dimensional, deep feeling and deep thinking children and their responses to situations need to be investigated and understood.
And those of us who work with children have a duty to do what’s best for them.