I got Maddie and Riley a couple of games for Christmas: Zingo and Sequence for Kids. I enjoy playing board games, although not with the fanaticism of some, and 4.5 seemed like a good age to introduce some simple gaming into our lives. In fact, the idea was Maddie and Riley's; they had a game day at school before the holidays and came home raving about how much fun it had been.
The games were given not much more than a perfunctory glance upon opening Christmas Day, but the idea of playing Zingo was received with much enthusiasm in the afternoon. We unpacked the game, got set up, read through the rules, and the gaming was underway. There was some confusion about the rules, but in general, it was all fun and . . . yeah, ok, that was lame.
Then Riley lost.
And Riley threw the one of the biggest fits I have ever seen him throw in his life. Which is saying a lot.
He wailed and cried. He railed and whined. He placed blame and blustered. He was finally convinced to play again, but that game was fraught from the start with attempts to cheat and concern that he might possibly lose again. Although then he won, and that was almost as bad what with the gloating and boasting and self-congratulating. Maddie handled the situation somewhat more maturely, but that's saying almost nothing.
Clearly, this is a Teachable Moment. I have to say that I was completely taken off guard by both Maddie's and Riley's competitive nature. In thinking back, seeing as we have not played many games, they have not often seen gracious loss or polite winning as modeled behavior by me, so they don't have a lot to go on. But they are endlessly cooperative in most aspects of their lives and we've had lots of discussions about how being the first one to the car is not important, being the fastest one to do a certain task is not important . . . in fact, we've been talking a lot lately about the value of slowing down and being careful, so the "make everything into a race" proclivity that seems to run in all kids has been somewhat tempered of late.
It's precisely the innate nature of the desire to win that threw me for a loop. Maddie and Riley both seem to share this deep-seated desire to WIN, and to take it as some kind of personal affront if they don't. I somehow did not realize how ingrained this was in humans and in our culture, although as I type it, it seems like I must be some kind of simpleton not to have been more aware.
What I'm not sure about is what to do next. I confess that my patience for the sore losing and the boasting is pretty much zero. Maddie ended up in a 15 minute time-out* when she flipped the Sequence board yesterday after drawing an "ugly" (her word) card from the deck. Then there was wily Riley, moving chips around on the board when "no one was looking," ha ha ha. GAR. We quit halfway through the third game when I said to them, "You know, playing games is supposed to be fun, and no one seems to be having much fun, so let's put this away for now." Or maybe FOREVER.
I jest. But I am troubled and at a loss for what to do other than model good behavior. I want them to understand that it's OK to be competitive, and it's OK to want to win, but that one does not always win and that it's not OK to act out when one loses. I also want them to understand that losing at a board game does not say anything about them as a person or in any way undermine their self-worth. That sounds so far-fetched, but it all seemed so deeply personal to me yesterday that I feel like I need to articulate that and make it as clear as I possibly can.
I said all of these things over the weekend. I told them that the kind thing to do when one loses is to look at the winner and say, "Good game. Want to play again?" I have the feeling that learning how to be a good sport is going to be a lifelong journey. I just hope we can at least make it through a game of Candy Land without a temper tantrum by the time they are five. Is that hoping for too much? How do you seasoned parents teach gracious competition?
*It started out at two minutes but escalated in one-minute increments when she would not go sit in the chair, stop shouting, etc.