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Copyright 2006 Julie Shepherd Knapp
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Copyright 2006 Julie Shepherd Knapp.  All rights reserved.
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The Homeschool Diner's Guide to
Homeschooling Basics
Family Matters

Family Game Time --
Strategies for helping the "poor loser" in your family  

by Julie Shepherd Knapp, copyright 2006

Many of you include educational games into your homeschool curriculum --
what a wonderful way to introduce new concepts and practice skills -- and
many families also find games just a fun way to spend time together.  But
losing gracefully at games does not come easily to all children.  

Some children are just naturally more competitive and more intense than
others, and do not take losing lightly.  Other children need only a few
discreet "pointers" about expected behavior to curb their frustrations and
learn to tolerate losing. Understanding that this a reality -- that there are
children who naturally take losing at games better or worse than others --
is the first step to creating a truly enjoyable family game time.

Though you certainly can't change a child's personality, you
can help even
an intensely competitive child learn to lose more gracefully.  If simply
modeling good losing skills, and talking with your children about their
behavior isn't working, consider the strategies below and see if any of them
make sense for your family dynamics.  

1.  Play games that are age and skill appropriate.

Find games that are actually *fun or interesting* for your particular child...
if a game isn't very fun or challenging, then "winning" is the only reason to
play....  You may find it helpful to try out card games and strategy games...
actually avoiding most of the preschool and elementary board games that
are not very challenging.   And always be on the lookout for new and
interesting games -- thrift stores and yard sales are an excellent way to find
and try out new games without a lot of expense.

2.  Play games that involve more than just "getting home".

Find games where there is a "point" to playing -- some enjoyment in the
activity itself -- other than just to get to the end first.  In simple "spin the
counter and get to the last square" games, there isn't really any other
reason to play... "getting to the end first" is the only goal.   

For some families, this means putting away "Chutes and Ladders" and  
"Sorry" for many years ;-)   Moving away from board games, in general,
and on to word games, strategy games and card games can give
immediate relief.  

There is,also, an alternative category of preschool games known as
"cooperative games".  There are several companies that sell cooperative
games for young players -- where all the players work together to win (or
all lose). The game Harvest Time is a good example, and has gotten good
reviews from kids and moms.  Max, Snowstorm, Roundup, and Harley are
favorites, as well.    
Cooperative Games and Family Pastimes have
these games and some other nice selections.  
Nova Natural Toys and
Crafts has some of these games, and some other group activities that are
not games at all.  Those moms who are crafty may be able to come up with
their own homemade cooperative games after looking thru these
commercial options ;-)

3.  Make a move to playing games where the winning or losing can
be pushed aside, and the game can be played without keeping

For instance, playing scrabble with the cooperative goal of using only
horse-related words (or whatever topic) or using all the tiles, rather than
keeping score.  (You can still celebrate a "really good" word without giving
it a score). You can stick with one "hand" of tiles, too (that you all draw
from) -- so there are no teams or turns taken, at all.

Solitaire played cooperatively is an other example, where the goal can be
achieved by helping each other spot the moves.

Preschool games such as "Don't Break the Ice" can be played individually,
with each player continuing to knock out ice cubes until the ice breaks.  
Then setting it up for the next player.   Just for the fun of hammering out
the ice cubes.

Games along the lines of Trivial Pursuit -- where there is a stack of
question cards used in playing the game -- can be played just by taking
turns reading the cards aloud and letting each person give their answer...
not even using the board or playing pieces.  Instead of keeping score,
make the goal of the game to have fun together.

4.  Take control of the game outcome.

Since you, as the parent, are intentionally trying to teach "graceful losing"
(not just playing for the sake of playing) you may wish to take some of the
"chance" out of who wins and loses, and actually direct the game outcome
(yes, thoughtful cheating ;-)  so that no player loses all the time, and no
player wins all the time.  

Some might, at first, see this as "babying" a poor loser... but you'll need to,
instead, think of it as a structured attempt to "desensitize" the poor loser...
by "administering" (if you see my analogy) losses at the best possible
moment -- usually after a few good wins.  Hopefully, the old familiar scenes
of poor losing will fade over time, and, in general, more and more losses
will be tolerated.  It won't happen overnight, so don't expect dramatic
changes too soon.  It will likely be a gradual progress, but one that speeds
up with age and maturity.   

If you're having trouble with the ethical aspect of directing the game
outcome -- maybe it will help to think of games as part of your curriculum,
that you are choosing to direct to the best advantage for your family goals.  
Much as you would choose an easier set of math problems for a younger
child's assignment, you are choosing milder experiences for this child.   

Seeing to it that a certain player wins or loses a game can be challenging
for the adults.  It is easiest to accomplish in card games - where a parent
can choose which cards to play, and which to hold -- to increase the
likeliness of a particular player wining or losing.  However, with younger,
inattentive players, it is possible to "stack the deck" of a board game to
ensure a win or loss.  It actually can add a missing element of  "challenge"
for the adults who are playing ;-)

Hopefully, some of these strategies will be helpful for your family.  When a
child discovers the actual fun in playing games -- aside from the "rush" of
winning -- he or she is more likely to enjoy the game, regardless of the
outcome.  And when losing only happens every now and then, it is much
easier to handle -- so try slowly building up your child's resistance to losing.
And do remember that all children are different in their tolerance to losing
-- but all can be thoughtfully guided to, eventually, become more tolerant.

Here's to a joy-filled Family Game Time! :-)  
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