I am a competitive person. I played sports throughout my school years and continued coaching and playing volleyball multiple times a week as a young professional. I only stopped when I became too pregnant to continue competing, and now my competitive streak is most often found in fantasy football leagues and the challenges I set for myself.
So it’s no surprise that my son now attempts to race me to our front door when we arrive home after school each day and competes to see whose morning routine is speedier (spoiler alert: that one is always him).
Is competitive spirit genetic? Sometimes I think it must be.
With all of this in mind, my husband and I try our best to talk about and reflect on our reactions to competitive scenarios (I especially have to temper my reactions during Saints games), and we seek out age-appropriate examples of sportsmanship and grace. With these skills and practice with winning AND losing, we all win.
We also make a point to add to our family’s game collection at Christmas and for my son’s birthday–both for family fun and for the express purpose of creating teachable moments. What types of games do we purchase?
Games of Chance
These are games that rely on random selections or rolls. Your child may win more than you, and that’s not a terrible thing! These losing moments are your perfect opportunities to react to the result and create relevant, meaningful examples of gracious losing. For example, I congratulate the winner and reflect aloud on my result: “You won! Hooray, buddy! I didn’t win, but that’s okay. I really enjoyed playing the game with you, and I’d love to play again.” Similarly, if I win, I don’t gloat or draw attention to the result.
Examples: Bingo, Candyland, and Chutes and Ladders
Games of Strategy
When children are young, games of strategy allow parents to win as many times as they’d like. Some elect to win whenever the opportunity allows to drive home the point that losing happens. Others allow their kids to win often. I attempt to teach my son as much as possible while playing these games of strategy, making them feel more like cooperative games.
Examples: Connect Four, Go Fish, Old Maid, memory, tic tac toe, and Guess Who?
Cooperative games emphasize teamwork and progress toward a common goal. As kids get older, team sports with winning and losing sides are a great option. If you’re having trouble finding a cooperative board game, oftentimes, games of strategy and chance can be adjusted to become more collaborative. One of my favorite games to do this with is Jenga. We work together to creatively change the tower’s design before thinking together of each perfect piece to remove. When it tumbles to the ground, it’s okay because it was our shared choice. Plus, what kid doesn’t like seeing a tower crash to the ground?
Examples: Hoot Owl Hoot, I Can Do That, puzzles, and other adaptable games like Jenga
More than Winning and Losing
Once the focus expands beyond just winning and losing, real aspects of competition like teamwork, perseverance, and problem-solving become just as satisfying as a victory. This healthy form of competition means that losing can teach valuable lessons and includes real reflection and continued hard work. I would be thrilled for my son to bring these characteristics and skills with him into adulthood and the real world.