Friday, February 19, 2016

BLOG RERUN: Why crushing your kids in Junior Monopoly is OK

(NOTE: Here's our monthly Blog Rerun, in which we bring back a post from somewhere in the distant and not-so-distant history of this blog. This one originally ran on June 4, 2012.)

Here's the thing with little kids and board games (or card games or sports or any sort of competition): Sooner or later, they're going to have to learn how to lose. And you as a parent are the one who has to teach them.

This isn't as easy as it sounds. Most of us with children have, at one point or another, let our kids win at something without them realizing it. You know what I'm talking about. You reshuffle the cards in Candyland and surreptitiously arrange the deck so that, hey look at that! Junior just drew Queen Frostine and is now 157 spaces ahead of me and thank the Lord this game will finally be over soon!

(NOTE: If you're going to take that particular approach to Candyland, also remember to scan ahead in the deck to make sure there are no impending disasters awaiting Junior. Like two cards later, he picks Mr. Mint and suddenly is way back at the start of the board and you realize the game will never, ever end because you messed with Board Game Karma.)

I've done this a time or two myself over the years. It makes the game a little more enjoyable for the kid and gives them some confidence. I don't know that I have a lot of theories about parenting, but if I do, one of them is the importance of instilling confidence in a child. It does wonders for them simply to know they can succeed at something.

But of course you can only do this so many times. Just as important as gaining confidence is for them to learn the life lesson that we don't always win. Queen Frostine isn't always going to come up on your turn. The other baseball team is sometimes going to be better than yours. We all strike out, fumble, put the cue ball in the corner pocket, or simply fall short at Go Fish from time to time.

Some kids get this right away, and they're totally fine with it. Others don't deal with losing so well. Like, say for instance, my son Jack.

Jack is a very bright little kid, which is both a blessing and a curse. At school, he picks up on things pretty quickly...98% of the time. When he doesn't get something right away, he gets frustrated and sometimes doesn't want to make the effort to learn it.

I will freely admit that he gets this particular trait from his father. When I was in kindergarten, they actually had me see the school psychologist because I would get so mad when I got even a single math problem wrong. They thought my parents were putting pressure on me to be perfect, but the psychologist quickly discovered that my mom and dad were pretty laid back and I was just a neurotic little freak who had to get every single thing right or else I would slash my wrists.

And so I've passed on the perfectionist gene to my little boy, and he's slowly but surely dealing with it. There's no doubt he really likes winning, though, and I imagine that quality will stay with him forever. Which isn't entirely bad. Once Jack learns the value of applying himself to a problem rather than walking away in frustration, he'll have acquired a valuable skill.

A lot of people complain about today's culture of everyone's-a-winner, particularly when it comes to youth sports. They say we're raising a generation of wimps who don't know how to lose when we give everyone a trophy or a ribbon, no matter how unskilled they are.

I guess I come down somewhere in the middle on this. I have no problem keeping score even at the youngest levels of competition, but I also don't think it's a bad thing for a 6-year-old to walk away with a ribbon at the end of the season as an acknowledgment of his/her hard work and participation.

I think I've mentioned before that I do this with my U8 soccer teams, which are made up of kids in kindergarten, first and second grades. At the end of the season, everyone gets some sort of award reflecting their performance, whether it's Most Valuable Offensive Player or simply the Most Improved. The kids like it and, again, it gives them a little confidence and hopefully encourages them to continue playing.

But in the end, relatively few of them will stick with the sport through high school. And obviously, even fewer (if any) will go on to play in college or at the professional level. Which is why they need to learn to handle the disappointment of losing now. And so Coach Scott instills this by scrimmaging against them and absolutely dominating them.

I like to think of it as my little bit of life teaching for the kids...and feeding my lifelong perfectionist competitive ego at the same time. Everybody wins.

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