Should you let your child win at board games?
This may not be a straight-forward question to answer. On one hand, it’s just a game. What’s the harm in intentionally losing to your child and letting him or her have fun and be happy? We don’t have to go all-out competitive with our children. Games are supposed to be about having fun together. On the other hand, children are pretty smart nowadays and will sooner or later sense that we are losing on purpose just to please them. Their victories will feel hollow. They would gain true satisfaction only when they know they deserve the win.
As a board gamer, I am mostly in the latter camp. Time spent playing board games with children are excellent opportunities to cultivate emotional intelligence in children. In the past, people believe that success is a result of high IQ. More recently, people start to appreciate the importance of EQ. If you are a smart person but don’t know how to deal with people or handle your own emotions, you won’t be very successful. Now there is an even newer concept – CQ (Collaborative Quotient). As our world becomes ever more complex, in work and in life we need to be able to cooperate with more and more people with different backgrounds and skills. Here are some ways board games help our children develop emotional intelligence.
Learning to deal with anger, disappointment and even betrayal: Or in a nutshell, learning to lose. In most games there are multiple losers and only one winner. Chances are your child will experience losing much more frequently than winning. In a game like A Game of Thrones, you may get lied to, betrayed and even ganged up on by others. Even for adults sometimes tempers will flare and boards get flipped. Negative emotions are a part of life that we need to learn to handle and overcome. We learn to stand back up after falling down.
Learning to be gracious: Do you gloat when you win? We want to teach our children not only how to handle defeat, but also how to handle victory. Do they remain modest? Do they display sportsmanship? We have to set the right examples ourselves. In Chess tournaments, a display of sportsmanship is part of the etiquette.
Celebrating others’ successes: We want our children to big-hearted. When their friends win at a board game, we want them to congratulate their friends and admire their skills, and not to pity themselves or blame luck. We want our children to be humble enough to learn from others, and to have the empathy to be happy for others. These are important qualities to connect with and collaborate with others.
Developing self-confidence: Unlike many other pastimes, board games are interactive. Children have to make decisions, and they see the consequences of their choices. They take an active role in the unfolding events in the game. They try different tactics and learn what works. By doing that, they build confidence. They learn to make decisions, and they learn to take accountability of their actions. Who else can they blame if they are the ones who made the decisions?
I played Lord of the Rings, a cooperative game, with my children when they were still a little too young for it. The strategy was slightly beyond them. Instead of directing them what to do, I explained to them their options and the possible outcomes, and let them decide what they wanted to do. They might not have made the best choices all the time, but they learned and gained confidence by making those decisions. When we were able to win, they knew they were fellow contributors and not just coming along for a ride.
Self-respect and respect for others: Children may take some games very seriously. They get emotionally involved and deeply care about winning or losing. This is a good thing. Putting heart into everything you do is an admirable quality. It means you take pride in what you do. It also means you respect your opponents at the same table, or colleagues you work with. Through board games we teach our children to have grit and to continue to do their best despite hardships.
When playing a game like Carcassonne or The Settlers of Catan, where everyone’s score is public information, if a child is falling behind, he or she can be easily feel dejected. We want to encourage our children to continue to play at their best, despite the poor odds.
Learning to see from others’ perspectives: A big part of playing board games is being able to analyse a situation from your opponents’ angle. You analyse their positions, and based on that you guess their motivations and plans. It is almost like reading minds. Being able to see things from others’ perspectives helps greatly in having empathy and connecting with people. When our children learn to understand others’ fears and dreams, needs and wants, they become able to appreciate others better. They have higher emotional capacity to accommodate others.
In games such as The Sheriff of Nottingham, Secret Hitler and Battlestar Galactica, the crucial skill required is to guess the identifies or the intentions of your opponents. You put yourself in their shoes and try to guess what they want to do.
When playing games with children, adults often have an advantage. This can make the games less fun for both the children (too hard to win) and the adults (too boring). There are a few ways to keep things interesting for everyone. Firstly, pick games where children actually have an advantage. Children may do better at short-term memory games and dexterity games. In some dexterity games, e.g. Gulo Gulo, smaller hands and fingers do better than big and clumsy ones. Another type of game which puts children and adults on more equal footing is luck-heavy games. Children will have a better chance at winning compared to low-luck, strategic games. Coconuts, a game about catapulting rubber coconuts into cups, is technically a dexterity game, but there is plenty of luck in whether your coconut bounces out or stays in the cup.
One way of giving children more equal odds in winning is to set a handicap for yourself. A handicap makes the game more challenging (i.e. interesting) for you, and also makes victory more achievable for your child.
A board game is a microcosm of what we experience in life. We face challenges. We solve problems. We have fun. We experience successes and failures. Spending time with children playing board games lets us develop their emotional resilience and emotional intelligence. When we demonstrate the qualities we want to instil, they observe and emulate us.
The next time you play Monopoly with your child, feel free to bankrupt your child showing no mercy. It builds character!
If you are a parent and are interested to explore how to use board games in your child’s learning and development, follow this link.