Lessons learned from playing games will last a lifetime


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Now that I am a grandparent, I really look forward to having one of my grandchildren spend the night. Each of them enjoy the opportunity for some one-on-one time.

When they were little, the evening was spent reading books and playing with age-appropriate toys—trains, Legos, dolls, etc. But now my oldest grandchild is 9 and we can actually play games. He really enjoys ping pong, but hates to lose. I could let him win, but what fun is that? How can you teach a child how to compete and yet avoid the meltdowns when they don’t win?

One key is to initially play games where luck truly determines the outcome. Chutes & Ladders is a perfect choice. Spin the dial and move your pieces. The game usually comes to a conclusion fairly quickly so that a second or third game can be played with a “new winner” being quite likely.

Dr. Richard Lazaroff is the author of “Some Assembly Required, A Guide to Savvy Parenting.”

Kids understand when luck and chance determine the winner. It’s OK not to like losing but a lot can be learned. Teach your child that it is normal to be disappointed when one loses and model proper behavior. Giving the child an appropriate vocabulary to express their feelings helps.

“Good game. Maybe I’ll win next time.”

Or teach them to shake the opponent’s hand just like athletic teams do at times on television. Early on, it might be possible to play another game with a different outcome, but if a child is too upset, teach them to take a break, ask for a hug, or just give them some time alone to get themselves calmed down.

As kids get older, many will choose to compete in team sports. Early on, I, too, favor those like soccer where gross motor skills are more important than fine motor skills. Soccer also introduces the concept of team——there is no “I” in team is a common phrase.

It is only natural for kids to take losing hard after a soccer game. They understand that the winning team is likely more skilled. This leaves a child disappointed in themselves—after all, they have been working hard at practice. Even they understand that these are not games where chance usually decides the winner.

After a losing effort, hopefully the coach is positive — focusing on each player’s improvement. Parents can reward their child’s effort and point out the good plays their child made. It is even OK to ask a child what they learned or what they thought they could do better next time. But again, be careful. Self-examination, though valuable to learn throughout life, can be beyond some children’s capabilities at younger ages.

Well, by now my grandson knows I’m a better ping-pong player than he is. After all, I’ve been practicing for 70 years. He’d know when I wasn’t really trying and if I let him win. I don’t slam too many. I just keep the ball in play and make sure he’s enjoying himself and not getting frustrated. And we always shake hands after the game, but that’s not the only shake we have. Usually, if we all manage our emotions well, we are off to the kitchen for a postgame milkshake.