Episode 7 – Emma, Age 11: Friend is a poor sport

Choosing how to respond to a frustrating friend

Kids Ask Dr. Friendtastic
Kids Ask Dr. Friendtastic
Episode 7 – Emma, Age 11: Friend is a poor sport


Think About It Questions

  • Why do you think kids sometimes have trouble handling winning and losing? What have you found useful to comfort yourself when you lose a game?
  • Have you ever had the experience of being the “worst” player in a game? How did you feel? What did you do?
  • Do you have a friend who has a habit you find annoying? How have you handled that?
  • Has anyone ever told you that something you do is annoying or frustrating? What happened? How did you respond?
  • Why do you think a one-on-one conversation about a problem is likely to go better than a whole group confronting someone about what they’re doing wrong?


Hi, there! I’m Dr. Eileen Kennedy-Moore, also known as Dr. Friendtastic.

I’m an author and clinical psychologist based in Princeton, NJ.

Here’s today’s question:

Hi, I’m Emma, and I’m 11 years old, When my friends and I are playing tag or a game like that, one of my friends always quits the game when it's their turn to be it or be the tagger. When we choose someone else to be the tagger, she rejoins the game, and it's so frustrating! If I was an emoji when this happens, I'd be the frustrated one.

Hi, Emma, thanks for your question! Clearly, your friend is not being a good sport: She likes to play tag with all of you, but she bows out when it’s her turn to be “it.” That sounds very frustrating!

I wonder why it’s so uncomfortable for your friend to be “it”. This may be one of those situations where we’re not going to be able to solve the problem unless we understand your friend’s point of view.

At a neutral time, when it’s just the two of you, so she doesn’t feel ganged up on, you could try saying to your friend, “I’ve noticed you really hate being the tagger when we play tag. How come?” Make sure your tone is curious, not critical. You’re not scolding or arguing; you’re just trying to understand what she’s thinking.

Is your friend the slowest runner in your group? It may be that she’s afraid if she becomes the tagger she won’t be able to catch any of the rest of you, and she’ll be stuck as the tagger.

If that’s the case, you might be able to solve the problem by adjusting the rules of the game. Maybe you could make a rule that the tagger can ask for a helper if they’re feeling tired or frustrated.

Another possibility is to create an extra way to stop being the tagger, besides catching someone. Maybe the tagger could get done with their turn by touching four specific things on the playground. You can all decide together what those four things are.

Trying to understand your friend’s concerns, and adjusting the rules to address those, could make it easier for your friend to handle being the tagger.

You could also decide to play a different game when she’s around to avoid the problem.

There’s another option for solving this: you could decide just to accept that this is the way your friend is right now.

Quitting a game of tag as soon as you’re “it” is not the right way to play the game. But a lot of kids have trouble learning to handle winning and losing. Maybe your friend just needs some growing-up time.

If your friend is usually a nice kid but just has this one annoying habit of quitting when she’s “it,” you probably don’t want to end the friendship over that. We all have our quirks and bad habits.

If asking about her point of view and trying to solve the problem doesn’t help, it might be wise to accept that, right now, your friend can’t handle being “it.”

I’m not saying this is right or fair, but maybe it just is. You could choose to be furious about it, or you could decide to shrug and think to yourself, “Oh, well. No big deal, It is what it is. She’ll grow up eventually,” and then just keep the game going!

Accepting things we don’t like isn’t easy, but sometimes it’s the kind thing to do.

This has been Kids Ask Dr. Friendtastic. If you have a question about making and keeping friends that you’d like me to answer, go to DrFriendtastic.com, and click on the podcast tab to see how to submit your question.

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