Today the politically correct stand is to have children participate in games where "everyone is a winner" and everyone gets a trophy. The problem is that this type of play does nothing to prepare children for a world where competition exists. It is important to include competitive games when choosing toys for toddlers starting around age three.
To instill an attitude of good sportsmanship in very young children, play games with them and train them in five basic principles. Children need to learn to:
1) Stay positive. Encourage team mates and give praise when it's warranted. Stay positive, be polite. Never belittle opponents, even when they make a mistake. NO TRASH TALK ALLOWED.
2) Be objective. If the other player does something good, acknowledge it with a positive remark. Win or lose, shake hands, say "Good game." Do not pout after a loss, do not gloat after a win.
3) Learn that winning is not everything. It really is only a game. Help your children understand that a good loser is better liked that a poor winner. No one likes a cheater or a bully.
4) Point out bad behavior in others. If another child is behaving badly, correct that behavior in a positive way and use it as an example. After correcting bad behavior, move on and forget. Look for an opportunity to praise good behavior.
5) Do not blame others for a loss. Accept losing graciously, learn from a loss and move on.
Do not be afraid that losing at a game will cause poor self esteem in your child. Many games for very young children, Candy Land and Chutes and Ladders for example, are based on chance rather than skill, so your child should win as often as lose. This gives the perfect opportunity to teach little ones how to be good sports either way. As with every skill your child will learn during life, learning young with little things will prepare them for big things later.
Children learn through play. Play prepares children for adulthood and how they play determines how they will live. It's important to teach children not only skills, but attitudes and good sportsmanship.