A few days ago Kitty overheard me talking about the masquerade taking place at this weekend’s Geek Girl Con.  After peppering me with questions about what a masquerade was, she asked if she could “finally” dress as Buffy.  After two years of steering her in a more child-friendly Halloween costume direction, I conceded that if there was a group of people who were going to appreciate (instead of being appalled at) a preschooler dressed as a teenage vampire slayer it would be the Masquerade Audience at Geek Girl Con. 

The costume was simple to put together, a “mini” skirt, and a hooded sweater vest from her closet were a good age-appropriate approximation of what Buffy would frequently fight the vamps in.  I bought her a pair of shiny black boots that we will paint and repurpose for Halloween and a cheap costume cross.  We made a stake from floral foam and paper mache.  Kitty practiced her staking and kicking and off we went.

As soon as we got to the con I knew there would be stiff competition in the kids’ category.  We ran into an absolutely adorable young Dr. Horrible with his sister dressed in a sweet interpretation of Captain Hammer.  The caliber of costumes of the kids in line with us was AMAZING.  Their mom-made costumes were intricate and awesome.  The kids spent time backstage playing with their accessories and having a great time.

When the show started  moms started reminding their kids about their “moves” and we all cheered loudly for each child.  Every single one of them rocked the stage, making their costumed personas come to life.  It was adorable.

Then it was time to announce the winners.  We had told Kitty that we were proud of her, that she did great, and that she needed to cheer loudly for whichever of her new friends won, even if it wasn’t her.  Then it happened…it *wasn’t* her, and she totally freaked the eff out.  She was crying, loudly.  At first it was kinda sad and adorable, a little mini Buffy crying onto her patent boots, stake in hand.   It was understandable.  At four years old losing is hard.  Then as it went on it quickly became not cute.   We explained to her that it was okay, that not everyone could win, that she should be happy for the girl who won, whose costume she had admired backstage.  She was still sobbing, whining that “I wanted a prize”.  At that point the response from me was “You didn’t win so you don’t get a prize. Take a breath and pull yourself together, you need to be a gracious loser”.

It was like this, except not as cute.

As people filtered out of the auditorium and we sat there, holding tear-stained Kitty, people offered their congratulations and compliments.  But more than one of them said the same thing: “ALL the kids should get prizes”.  I appreciate the sentiment, I do.  It’s hard to see little ones upset about something they were excited about (a tiny Princess Leia, the only other contestant as young as Kitty was also crying over her loss) but what do our kids learn if they always win?   I’d rather Kit experience losing and have her meltdown over the disappointment of her first big loss now when it’s developmentally appropriate.  If we let all the kids win, victory is meaningless.  And frankly, the kid who won had a better costume and put on an awesome stage show, she deserved the win.

As parents we work so hard to teach our kids to be fair, be kind and be polite.  Losing is a fantastic opportunity to reinforce those lessons.  It’s really, really hard to be a gracious loser, but it’s a skill we all must learn. Making every kid a winner isn’t a great way to prepare kids for real life. Most adults will experience more “losses” than “wins”. No one wants to see a grown woman sobbing because she couldn’t find jeans in her size on sale or an executive throwing a fit because she didn’t land a deal (though that actually does happen…).

We went home, we had celebratory banana splits, and when someone later that night asked her about her experience she said  “I had fun, and I jumped around, but I didn’t win.” without even a hint of sadness.  She got over losing, just like we all learn to.