Age matters when it comes to games

IT can be tempting to let your young child win most of the games you play together. After all, he’s only little and you want to build his confidence.

But you could be conveying that winning is more important than sticking to the rules. “And if the child figures out that Mum or Dad let him win, there’s no sense of achievement in that for him,” says parent coach Val Mullally ( ).

Letting your child know that you’re allowing him to start a couple of paces ahead of you or to have an extra go because you’re older equalises the playing field, she says.

But up to at least age four, children don’t cope well with losing or with competitive games. “In the early years, it’s far better to have cooperative rather than competitive games,” says Mullally, adding that some age-appropriate competition is healthy in a child’s overall development. Keep it very low-key and relaxed at the start— ideally, the game should at the same time be teaching the child the value of cooperation.

When introducing competitive games, Mullally counsels against pitting your child on his own against one other person.

To teach your child how to cope with failure and how to be a good loser, she says never to underestimate the power of modelling the behaviour you want. “Model how to handle losing — ‘oh, we’ve lost, maybe next time we’ll win’. Be light-hearted about it and they learn to deal with losing.”

And watch your language. Saying ‘oh, you’re so clever’ sets it up for your child to have to always live up to that expectation. “That’s where a fear of failure builds. Better to say ‘that was a clever move you made’, which refers to behaviour. You can change behaviour at any time — it’s not threatening your identity.”

When children are young they can get very emotionally attached to winning. “If the emotion becomes too strong, they get emotionally flooded. The reasoning part of the brain isn’t working – so there’s no point is saying something like ‘it’s just a game’.

Calm the child, interact and empathise with them: ‘oh, you’re disappointed you didn’t win’.”

Once the child is calm, you can then ask ‘what’ questions – ‘what do you think you could do differently next time?’ – rather than why questions, which tend to lead to blame and justification.

But your child also needs to learn that he’s not going to be brilliant at everything. Support him to see where his growth opportunities are, says Mullally.

“Saying ‘don’t worry – that’s good enough’ also doesn’t help him to stretch to his fullness.”

Top tips

* Play cooperative games at home.

* If playing competitively, level playing field so your child has a chance to win.

* If he’s upset about not winning, calm him and listen to his disappointment.

* Watch how you model failure.


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