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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 score.  

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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Maturity starts when the drama ends

A sore loser is someone who
loses in a fair competition
but whines about it
on a constant basis,
blaming everyone around them
for their loss except themselves.
Fun to taunt, but no fun to play with.
Urban Dictionary

A sore winner is someone who wins
and spends far too much time
gloating over it,
to the point that the rest of the people
feel poorly about even participating.

--Urban Dictionary