What do you do when you are the least competitive person you know but your child is cut from different cloth?
And, what do you do when your child is constantly nagging you to play a game of chance that she is unlikely to win every time, but openly cheats or throws a shit fit if she even looks like she might be losing? And how do you deal with this situation when you, as an individual really don’t give a shit either way but realise in your role as a parent that this is the opportunity to crowbar a few life lessons in; you know, the ones about learning to lose gracefully, enjoying the process, taking it on the chin, chalking it up to experience and going in more determined to win next time. Oh yes, and the fact that it’s supposed to be fun, a shared experience, a chance to interact with each other. Yes, fun!
Half way through one of our ‘game ordeals’ over Christmas, I drew it to an early close as the tears and the huffing and puffing had reached critical levels. My soothing words about a game being a bit of fun and that losing was part of playing were falling on the usual deaf ears. I then dropped the responsible parent routine and let out my inner 6 year old as I exclaimed that ‘nobody wants to play with you if you cheat all the time nah ner ner nah nah!’
I went and sat on the sofa. She was at the table with her back to me. I could see her shoulders heaving. I could feel the indignant heat radiating from her angry cheeks. And still with her back to me she said in her best angry voice:
“I know I cheated Mummy, but it’s just that I REALLY HATE LOSING”
I never joined a team. I wish I had. I did not grow up with sport, I never enjoyed Monopoly and I’m not very competitive.
I should say at this point that I don’t necessarily WANT my kids to be like me. I am your ultimate apologist – the sorry box of my childhood being a perfect case in point. My non-competitive nature could very easily be mistaken for apathy or dis-interest. I must stress that this is definitely not the case. But, I cannot deny that I really find it hard to get worked up about winning a game or a quiz, coming first, beating someone else. I mean obviously I’m there screaming for Mo at the Olympics, cheering when England (or Denmark) do well in international sport, and I’m generally just very very relieved when the mighty Liverpool actually win a game because then I know that my house will be a calm and happy place! But on the flipside, I actually feel quite desperate and sad when I see the ‘runner up’ at Wimbledon, or the team that has just been knocked out of the FA cup on penalties. I see their pain, I feel their disappointment and it tarnishes for me the sense of happiness and victory for the other side. Even as I write this I realise how utterly wet and limp and other words describing weak this is! But I can’t help it.
In addition to this, I find board games quite tedious and trying, especially where the children are involved, preferring instead an uncomplicated, non-biased activity such as a puzzle!
I have learned that when children (well, mine anyway) reach the age of 5 or thereabouts, the ability to control themselves when it comes to playing competitive games is tough to say the least. There are invariably tears and red faces and explosions of anger when things are not going their way: when the snakes outnumber the ladders and the lotto cards are filling up faster on the other side of the table, or all the top trump cards are in someone else’s hands. The pale cheeks flush a puce red and the little eyes start to brim with tears. Then the blind anger sets in and more often than not, it’s all over!
But this small person has a big big big persuasive streak. I try so hard to stand up to the barrage of whingeing and whining and cajoling. But invariably, I give in (I am weak I am weak). So, in an attempt to salvage some control over things, I have over the weeks and months tried various game play strategies with her.
1. Let her cheat – By letting her cheat, and subsequently win I am taking the line of least resistance. And, seeing as I don’t give a rat’s arse about winning or losing, it is no skin off my nose. Yes, she is learning that dishonesty and emotional manipulation pays, but, hey, we are in post Brexit, post truth, Trump Land where ‘alternative facts’ are actually a thing! Maybe these are the life lessons she needs to be learning: Go out there, grab what you want and win AT ANY COST.
2. Let her win (a bit) – I let her win for a bit, I ignore some of the the indiscretions and blatant cheating. But then, I start to actually play the game properly, partly to stop myself from falling asleep. Perhaps I even win the game of lotto or spotty dogs! Then, through the tears and the stamping and the wailing, I attempt to explain mainly 2 things, namely, you can’t win everything and it’s luck whether you win or lose and after all, it’s supposed to be fun!
3. No more Mrs Nice Guy – I go in hardcore, from roll 1 of the dice. This usually means a swift conclusion to the game as she walks (or rather stomps in a flouncy way) very fast from impending defeat.
In my naivety or stupidity (how after 12 years of child rearing can I be this dense?) I think that this no nonsense, teach them what real life is really like, you can’t win em all attitude is going to actually work. Then I take a step back and reflect. She’s 6. She is the youngest (indulged much of the time). She lives in an affluent home in a free (at the time of writing) country. Did I mention, she’s 6? Does she need to learn life’s harsh lessons from A through to Z right now? Do I have to be the nasty person who dishes out the truth every time? Can’t I let her believe for a little bit longer that she will win a game of chance every fucking time she plays it? Is it really that bad to maintain the status quo for a little bit longer? It’s either that or explain that until she learns to lose with some grace and dignity, ain’t nobody gonna want to play a game with her!
But, in all honesty I have to say, how brilliant that she articulated exactly how she felt at that moment. Respect to my 6 year old daughter who gets it more at her age than I can now – it’s ok to not like it. It’s ok to really hate it. And it’s ok to say you hate to lose! I’m guessing, that like her siblings, she will also put herself voluntarily into situations where she might win or lose and she will get upset and frustrated sometimes and she will invariably find herself on the losing team. And she will really really hate it! But I hope by then she will also hear my voice in her head saying – it’s ok to lose sometimes. This is how you learn. And losing well is a great skill and a useful quality to have. But, most of all, she has the voice and the confidence to express this.
So yes, little monster child, continue to hate to lose, just learn to do it with a rye smile on your face and with renewed determination to win next time and then learn to love the process of winning FAIR and SQUARE!