"Do you know what my favorite part of the game is? The opportunity to play." - Mike Singletary

November 8, 2010

Once upon a time at our house, a game of Candyland was the high point of any day. Candyland was all about cooperation, with a splash of figure skating. Candyland represented a colorful oasis of fun on a Sunday morning while Daddy was sleeping, where E and I could play the game without much regard to The Rules and just run around Candyland, jumping over sticky licorice and racing each other to the candy treats.

No longer.

I know he's been playing Candyland at daycare, and sometime over the past few weeks E has developed a (very age appropriate) focus on "The Rules". On Friday night, after dinner, we played Candyland by The Rules, and E lost the game. Twice.

And then -- then! -- Oh, the weeping. Not winning is clearing the Worst. Experience. Ever. Falling off the chair, wailing and weeping, with big fat wet tears running down his cheeks. I'd seen a glimpse of this behavior once before, when he was running footraces with a much older boy at a local mini-park, but at the time I just chalked it up to E being tired and crabby and hot (which he was) and didn't think much more of it.

Now I'm thinking something of it, and trying to sort out what to do. Increasing, E loves to play competitive games. He loves Go Fish, and Candyland, and this fall he's become enamored with football (although I think that's more about falling down than it being an actual game you can win). And he asks - begs - us to play with him. But now its a little nerve wracking to play with (against?) him, because I know the outburst is coming at the end.

I was also an only child, and I remember ever Christmas having a Board Game on my list. I amassed quite a collection of them over the years, but the grownups in my house were always too busy to sit down and play with me. So I particularly, explicitly want to play these games with him, and teach him about "the opportunity to play" and sportsmanship and being a gracious winner and a "good" loser and all the rest of it. But I dread the end.

As his mom, my instinct is to soothe the tears away. But as a grownup, I know that I have to find a way to teach him that this kind of reaction to simply losing a game is unacceptable, so often I'm forced to tell him I'm not going to play any more even as he's tearfully begging me to play with him again, so he can win. On Sunday, he was playing against his Aunts - Josh's sisters - and when the "I wanted to win!!" wailing started, they tried the typical tactics -- "playing is the important part" "we each won one game, so we shared the winning" -- which utterly failed. In frustration or desperation (or, you know, from the experience in being a younger sibling in a family of six), one of his Aunts finally told him "nobody likes a crybaby".

Unsurprisingly, that didn't work either. He ended up snuggled down in Mimi and Poppa's bed for a while - not a nap, but just some "quiet time". And in a bit he was fine, up and running around and wanting to play again.

There's lots of advice out there about this, mostly centered on "redirect him to cooperative play". But it seems like that's just postponing the problem, not addressing it.

I really miss the days when a game of Candyland ended with all the playing pieces holding hands and doing a little dance.


jenne.heise said...

My experience is that this is just something kids (and people in general) need to work through and get out of their systems. Can you channel Mary Poppins or something? (Ok, probably not that harsh. But "Yup, it's disappointing to lose. You probably don't believe us, but with practice it gets easier to handle, even though it's really hard for you now. You want to go away and have some quiet time to sit with this?" That won't make him any happier, but it's a stage, something he has to get through. There's no point in putting it off until he's a moody teen, like we basically have done! When he's calm, you might consider talking to him about what you and Josh find fun about playing when you may not win. )