There are two schools of thought surrounding children and competitive sports and games.
Some favour a completely inclusive Everyone's a Winner approach. There are no winners, and no losers, and absolutely everyone receives an "I'm the best me I can possibly be" medal at the end (probably crafted out of corduroy, lentils, and recycled copies of The Guardian).
Other people loudly advocate a harsh no-prizes-for-second-place attitude, demanding that children's self esteem be sacrificed at the altar of cut throat competition and ambition. This was no doubt the attitude held by the parents of the nation's top banking executives..
Of course, in reality most of us fall somewhere in between those two poles. I tend to lean more towards the inclusive side of the spectrum – partly because I'm a card carrying woolly liberal, and partly because I very rarely win anything and so it's the only way I'm in with a chance of getting a trophy.
Let's face it, we've all come across adults who failed to learn those lessons as a child. And those people have invariably grown up to be complete idiots whose company most people would jump through hoops to avoid.
So let's do the world a favour – let's not let our children grow up to be idiots. There are far too many of them around already.
So what's the best way to prevent our kids becoming bad winners and losers? By playing board and card games with them of course!
By playing games we rehearse for real life. We practise these tiny controlled mini-dramas of conflict and co-operation in a safe environment with no consequences. And by doing so we prepare our coping strategies for when we find ourselves in real life situations in the future. It happens in the animal world too; it's why lion cubs playfight and lambs skip in the fields. It hones minds, bodies and emotions, sharpening us up for the cut and thrust of the challenges of adulthood.
It's also a whole lot of fun.
By winning and losing at games you prepare yourself to cope with winning and losing in life. Children develop their capacity to handle their frustration and their pride, their ability to navigate the social intricacies of dealing with those they are in conflict with, and the self assurance to take responsibility from their own mistakes, and learn from them.
It's all jolly good stuff.
Now, you could learn all these things by playing all the old traditional games. Snap. Snakes and Ladders. Even *shudder* Monopoly. But similarly you can sustain yourself by only eating bread and water. But why would you want to do that when there's so much more available on the menu?
The board and card gaming industry is experiencing a massive renaissance at the moment, and there are hundreds of fantastic family games out there that grown ups get to enjoy just as much as the kids.
If your specific goal is to help your children learn how to be good losers and winners then my advice is to go with games that are relatively short. Playing three or four games in quick succession can help develop the realisation that even if you lose one game, it doesn't matter as you might win the next. Children feel less invested in them, and so the lessons in loosing and winning are easier to learn.
Here are some suggestions from my own gaming cupboard:
A quick, simple game that is extremely easy to learn and that has a level playing field for players of all ages.
There are a number of mini games you can play with Dobble, but each revolve around trying to spot matching pictures on cards before your opponent does. You can always tell when a game of Dobble is happening in our house by the peels of laughter and grunts of good natured frustration.
Distraction is memory game in which you have to remember an increasingly long sequence of numbers whilst being distracted by having to answer sporadic questions set by the game (such as "If you had a million pounds what would you spend it on").
Unlike Dobble,older children and adults tend to have a natural advantage over younger kids with Distraction, and I must admit that I've deliberately thrown the odd game I've had with my six-year-old son just to maintain his interest.
But if you've a child with an aptitude for remembering things (such as my daughter) it can be a really fun game to butt heads over.
Duck, Duck, Bruce
A charming "push your luck" game where you attempt to collect sets of ducklings before the boisterous dog, Bruce, bounds up and chases them all away.
Duck, Duck, Bruce is a great way for kid to learn how to balance risk with reward. And as such is a game one that has certainly caused my son to reflect on the consequences of his decisions on his chances of victory.
This also is another game where my kids and I are relatively evenly matched, and therefore one they take obvious delight in beating me at, as they know that their victory is genuine.
That's three great games that I enjoy playing just as much as my kids do. You can all get those games at your nearest all powerful monolithic internet megastore. But my advice is go to the smaller online or bricks and mortar specialist games companies, as you'll get just as good a deal and you'll be helping out the little guy.
What about you? Have you any tips on how to help your kids develop into good winners and losers? Any good games to recommend? Share them in the comments.
Dan lives in Yorkshire with his wife, three kids, and a flock of megalomanic chickens.
He probably spends far too much time thinking about board games.
Blogs at: Cabbage Dan
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