It’s not easy to lose.
My earliest 4-H memories are all of winning—in fact, I wonder if that isn’t part of the reason I originally stuck with 4-H.
In middle school, however, something changed.
At District Project Achievement I started making pen-pals from other counties and loosened up enough to learn a few dances.
Somewhere in that process, it hit me that the blue ribbon wasn’t everything.
I learned the lesson just in time, because I came in third place that year. I must have been a little disappointed, but I didn’t cry and I didn’t quit.
In ninth grade, I didn’t even place. But I did recognize how much better many of the projects I saw that day were than my own, and I went home knowing I had a lot of work to do to win.
Some learn these lessons earlier, some later. And, I’m afraid, some never learn it.
I read a newspaper article a while back with a 4-H slogan I’d never heard: To win without bragging and to lose without squealing.
I’ve since discovered the slogan probably comes from a list of cardinal virtues compiled by George Washington Carver.
I’m not sure why we no longer use the slogan, because it certainly speaks to youth today as well as it did back then.
At our state competition a few weeks ago, many 4-H’ers commented on the poor sportsmanship of a few members. Two of these placed second in the state, and yet reacted with anger and disappointment.
They seemed to forget those who didn’t place at all, or those who never even had the opportunity to compete at state, who would have loved to stand in their place.
I was so much prouder of the overwhelming majority of youth who reacted differently — who congratulated those who beat them, and immediately made plans for how to improve their own work for next year.
For in 4-H, we know that no matter how you place, you can always make your own work better.
Whether it is in competition or officer elections, you probably won’t always win in 4-H. And that’s okay.
By the age of 9, we believe that children are developmentally ready to win and lose with good grace.
I am convinced it is parents who must start children on this path, however, at a much earlier age.
We see countless examples each day of adults who never learned to win and lose.
Politicians who win and seem to take it as a license to do things only their way instead of representing all constituents, as well as those who lose an election and now don’t want to work as a team with those who won.
Stars who publicly gripe about other stars, even jumping on stage during an award acceptance speech to contest the award.
Do we provide the same example at home, sometimes, “squealing” about unfairness at work or bragging too much about our achievements?
And how do we talk to children when they experience heartache and disappointment?
British nanny Emma Jenner recently published a list of concerns about modern parenting, including something she calls the “sippy cup test.”
After pouring milk into a sippy cup, if the toddler then demands a different cup, do you rush to avoid a tantrum by dirtying a second cup or stick with the original cup?
Sure, it’s just a single extra cup to clean, but I’d side with Jenner in saying it starts us down a slippery slope both for our role in teaching and the child’s role in learning to deal with life.
The favored cup will still be available for the next cup of milk; you didn’t throw it away. Being disappointed does not have to equal a screaming tantrum.
At camp this summer I delivered a rather stern lecture to a group of girls after hearing one blame another for a missing item, after the owner left it unattended. Seeing their shocked and serious faces, I worried I’d been too stern with these 9 to 11 year old girls until one piped up, “You’re going to be such a good mom.”
So maybe the lecture was just what they needed.
May we all win without bragging and lose without squealing.
Terri Kimble Fullerton is a Newton County 4-H Agent through UGA Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.