Learner Dad: 'I’m not sure about the right thing to do when playing games with the kids'

Learner Dad: 'I’m not sure about the right thing to do when playing games with the kids'

I cheated playing Fish in the Pond with my five-year-old last night. He can’t fan the cards out properly, so he sits behind us on the couch with the cards face-up in front of him. If you want to see if he has ‘a three’, all you have to do is turn around. I turned around. So would you if you were playing against him.

He’s on a hot streak right now, winning every time he takes on his sister and me. (He has his mother’s memory, which means absolutely nothing gets past him.)

Cue a moral dilemma. Just because I know he has a three doesn’t mean I have to use it against him. The guy is only five years of age.

I resist the temptation to ask if he has a three for a few rounds, until he robs three of my Queens and goes into the lead.

“Do you have a three,” I say.

“No,” he says. “Fish in the pond.”

So now he’s cheating as well, but I can’t call him on it.

I’m not sure about the right thing to do when playing games with the kids. Do you let them win to boost their confidence, or beat them now and again so they can learn to lose and improve for the next time?

I was reading an interesting article about this in the Daily Telegraph by former England rugby international, Will Greenwood. His father Dick, a former England player himself, never let his son win at anything. This included soccer, athletics, cricket and you guessed it, cards. As Greenwood put it: “He never gave me an inch.”

This includes Dick knocking his son out accidentally in a caravan park, while showing him the basics of the drift defence in rugby. For all that, Will Greenwood says he wouldn’t change a thing, because all that tough love helped him get to the top table in international rugby.

I’m not sure if my son will ever play international rugby — if these things are genetic, he won’t. (I’m a lover, not a fighter, and so is my wife.)

Win-at-all-cost people are usually a right pain in the arse; I know this because I am a bit of a one myself. My seven-year-old was doing her English homework the other day and told us that every sentence has to have a noun. “He ran quickly,” I shouted across the dinner table, delighted with myself for helping my daughter with her grammar. My wife said ‘he’ is a noun, I said it’s a pronoun, she countered that stands in for a noun in this case, so I offered “eat quickly” as an alternative. My wife made her listen-to-yourself face. So I did.

In fairness, I can be over-competitive with the kids sometimes, even to the point of being wrong. I find it hard to let it go. I hope my kids don’t inherit this from me, genetically or by example, it’s not a great look.

In the meantime, I’m going to keep looking for a balance between tough love and letting them win all the time. One of the best things about sports and games is it teaches you how to lose. (I was a Manchester United fan in the 1980s, which gave me a better education that any university.)

Losing is just a reminder that life usually evens itself out over time — some times are better than others, the trick is to avoid getting too high or too low whenever the pendulum swings. I can’t think of a better way to pass this on to my kids than four or five games of Fish in the Pond.

Before we part, I should add that my son stopped the game a minute after I caught him ‘cheating’, to announce he had made a mistake, it turns out he had a three all along. So, he isn’t a cheat. Unlike his dad.

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