Are You a Loser on Purpose? Playing Games with Kids

I don’t like playing board games.  Call me a party-pooper, but it is one of my least favorite things to do with kids.  While I love throwing a ball, riding bikes, or going swimming – board games just aren’t my thing.  So when my arm is twisted into playing Candyland or Old Maid, I have a few rules.  I have these rules not only to make the game tolerable for me, but also to help the kids learn to be good playmates.  My rules are as follows:

Cheating is never tolerated. I don’t care how young the kid, I never tolerate cheating. In fact, I state the rule several times before the game even begins.

“You know, Sally, I don’t play games with people who cheat. You’re going to follow all the rules, right?”

“Sally, I’m excited to play Candyland with you. We’re both going to follow the rules, right?”

“Sally, I just want to make it clear that I don’t play with cheaters, so if you cheat, I will have to stop the game.”

It may sound like overkill, but getting excited to play Candyland is tough enough without the prospect of being cheated.  I’ve heard some folks say, “but she’s only 3, how can you expect her to follow the rules?”  To that I say: If you allow them to cheat now, when and how will you teach them not to?  Is cheating at 3 any better than cheating at 13 or 30? No.  If they’re too young to understand the rules, pick another game.

Losing on purpose. This is a tough one.  Should you as a parent (or teacher, babysitter, or therapist) “throw” a game of Chutes and Ladders?  Basketball?  Golf?  Losing on purpose is a slippery slope (or Chute as the case may be).  Here’s my rule:  If the game is one of chance (Candyland, Chutes and Ladders, Old Maid, etc) then I wouldn’t recommend throwing the game.  Chances are that you will lose 50% of the time anyway (especially if you ensure all the rules are followed by both parties).  If the game is one of skill (Tic Tac Toe, basketball, tennis, chess) losing on purpose is worth considering.  For example, you might let a 4 or 5 year old win a tennis game from time to time as a way to encourage them to keep playing, and also to give them a taste of what it is like to win.  You might not want to let your 15 year old win though, as you will likely be evenly matched by then AND they will be able to tell if you aren’t trying your hardest.  Either way, be careful of making a habit of letting your kids win – it’s a tough one to break, and it’s nothing like real life.

Good sportsmanship is a must. I’m big on good sportsmanship.  Shaking hands after a game, a “Great Game!” shouted across the court, a high -five to an opponent.  Public displays of good sportsmanship are often enough to make me tear up.  Playing games with our kids is a great way to teach sportsmanship in action.  Just as I go over the no-cheating rule before the game commences, I also talk about the fact that he may win, but that I may win too.  I might say things like:

“You know, you might win this game, and I might win.  How do you think you will feel if you win?  If I win?”

“Do you think it’s OK to get angry if I win? Should I get angry if you win?”

“Let’s both agree to be good sports no matter who wins, OK?”

Is he doesn’t know what good sportsmanship, tell him.  When he demonstrates it, I praise him for it “Jeremy, I thought it was so cool how you handled losing the game – nice job.”  And I’m sure to catch them being good sports when they are with their peers too.  “Jeremy, I know you were disappointed that your team didn’t win the game, but I loved how you were the first one out there shaking hands.”  And don’t forget, kids notice what kind of sports we are too.  We can teach them a lot about losing gracefully by doing it ourselves.