What’s the competition level like when your family plays games together? In truth, it’s all good fun and way more interesting when winning is a matter of life and death. But when it comes to playing games with the younger generation, should we be curbing that competitive instinct and — heaven forbid — let them win?
Playing board games and card games with your grandchild creates many opportunities for learning beyond just the game itself. One of the most important lessons is how to compete and win or lose gracefully. Does good grandparenting mean letting the child win at games? How do you know when to let a child win and when to let the child learn how to lose gracefully?
Teach Children How to Lose
Children learn quite early that winning is important. If a child constantly loses, she won’t want to play. The purpose of playing games is to have fun and enjoy the interaction that comes from being together. There isn’t any harm in letting a child win. But, if the grandchild is intentionally cheating, don’t let her win. The child also needs to learn that when playing games, one can’t win all of the time. So, while it’s important to win, it’s also important to learn how to lose. Grandparents shouldn’t feel like they have to throw the game.
I just stayed with my two granddaughters, ages 13 and 17, while their parents were off enjoying some well-deserved R & R. Both my granddaughters have grown up playing board games and card games with their parents and grandparents. They’re both excellent players and the 25 well-worn board games lining their living room shelves are a testament to their talents. The 13-year old is a true competitor. She takes after my 97-year old mom who beats me squarely at cribbage and dominoes. Also, at Gin Rummy and Rummikub. I asked my mom whether grandparents should let their grandchildren win. She thought for a moment and said adamantly, “No, they need to learn how to lose sometimes.”
Over the 5 days I stayed with my granddaughters, Amelia and I started playing games the day I arrived until the morning I left. We played Gin Rummy, Stress (a truly stressful card game,) Connect 4, Parchese, Yahtzee, Rummikub, Suspend, (a fun game of balancing metal bars) Triominoes, and Monopoly. She beat me in almost every game and completely slaughtered me in Christopher Marley’s Incredible Insects Memory Game — a card game where you place the 36 pairs of incredibly beautiful exotic insects face down and then try to remember where all the pairs are by turning them over one pair at a time. At the end of the game, Amelia had 34 pairs and I only had 2! Needless to say, I cannot count on my memory to win at this game!
But every once in a while, I get revenge on this super competitor and my victory is sweet! I slaughtered her in Monopoly even playing with Amelia’s “house rules” — collect $400 if you land on “Go,” get $600 if you roll “snake eyes,” collect all the money in the center when you land on “Free Parking.” Usually, she grins with glee as she places houses and hotels on all her properties. But this time, luck favored me. By the end of the game, I had monopolies on every property, hotels, and houses on three sides of the board, all the railroads and utilities and even the “Get out of jail” card! Plus plenty of cash in my bank account. I was so proud of my win, I took a photo of our final game board for history when I can say, “Remember that time I slaughtered you in Monopoly?”
I can revel in my victory because Amelia is a gracious loser. She just goes on to the next game confident of another victory. That’s the great thing about friendly family competition — positions on the leaderboard are constantly changing and thus, we get used to losing, whether we like it or not. I’ve learned that losing doesn’t destroy self-esteem; it helps to overcome a fear of failure. By becoming familiar with losing, we grow less afraid of it and this carries over into other parts of our lives that require courage and faith in our abilities.
The best option when playing games with your grandchild is to not have an agenda. Don’t go out of your way to let your young opponent win or lose. If they win congratulate them but don’t act disappointed — keep the emphasis on how much fun it was to play, regardless of the outcome. This helps them learn how to handle losing. If they lose set the example of how to be a graceful winner. A high-five or a handshake is a great way to start instilling the habits of a good sportsman.