When to Throw the Game

There is a fine line between helping a young child learn sportsmanship, and squashing his spirit. Intuitive parents/teachers/grandparents can read the child and know when to back off. I experienced this last night, New Year’s Eve, while playing Scrabble Jr. with my 6 year old grand baby.

Papa and I were invited to walk down the street to ring in the new year with our precious grands and their parents. The Arctic Blast in Texas was keeping all of us in for the night (here in Texas, anything under about 40 degrees is considered Arctic!). I couldn’t think of a single thing that I would rather do!

We started the early evening with a great movie, “Shark Boy and Lava Girl.” (Perhaps there is some room in the writing-for-kids lane in Hollywood). But, the boys LOVED it!

After the movie, Mack played a rousing game of BLOCKUS with the guys (this is a wonderful game for developing the spacial intelligence). Then, I was up!

It will come as no surprise that, as his grandmother, I consider Coby to be a brilliant and amazing child. But even from a removed position, as an educator and student of young children, I find him to have an amazing intellect. He’s reading at a very advanced level, has a vocabulary worthy of SAT scholars, and is already an analytical thinker. But…he is SIX! He has the emotions of a 6 year old.

Often, when a child is verbal beyond his/her years or when a child is large for his/her age, adults fail to remember that the child still has the emotions of a young child. I think that’s a particularly important thing to remember.

I had never played Scrabble Jr. I was never a game-player with my own kids. Mack was great to play Risk, Monopoly, etc with our boys. But, I usually found some laundry to do or a meal to cook while they played (of course, I regret this now). In fact, Jack (the daddy of the grands) is shocked that I play both board and video games with the grands, since I never played with them. Live and Learn.

Coby and I sat down at the kitchen table to play the game. I had to read the directions, as the rules were a bit different from regular Scrabble (I’m not very good at that game either). When I completed my second word, Coby became upset. Now, remember, he is a 6 years old! And it was late. And it was the tail-end of a very busy holiday couple of weeks. Tears came into his eyes, with frustration that he had not yet scored a word.

I thought that his parents handled it well. His dad called him over to tousle his hair and break the frustrating (for him) moment. When he came back to the table, his frustration had broken, and we were able to continue without incident.

I didn’t “throw the game,” but I did hold off a little when I saw frustration growing. While I think that it’s important for a child to learn to lose, I don’t think that it’s a lesson that needs to be taught by beating them over the head with it. When that happens, a child tends to give up. I want Coby to WANT to play Scrabble with me again. He needs to know that he won’t always win, but we can do that in small steps.

Observe the child. Help him/her to ease in to sportsmanship. Take their emotions into account. Understand the events surrounding the emotions. Be a little more forgiving when the child has had a long day or when they have suffered upset or rejection. Lead them to be good sports in small doses.

The game and the night ended on a good note. Fact is, he actually beat me – fair and square! Toward the end of the game, he was giving me tips on where I might play my “x” or even put the “p” that I drew to give me a two word score. A night that could have ended in tears actually ended in a great memory for both of us. When I walked him up to his bunkbed after ringing in the new year, we made plans for playing Scrabble again tomorrow, when Papa and I babysit.

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