/ May 24, 2024/ Board Games, Cooperative Games/ 0 comments

Does your child have a difficult time winning or losing games? Or how about when they play; do they throw a fit when things don’t go their way? Do they struggle with perfectionism or anxiety? If a task is difficult for them, do they give up quickly? Games can help with teaching sportsmanship, but not every game!

I am of the opinion that it’s totally normal for kids to go through this difficult phase. My son went through it hard when he was about 5, and even now that he’s 10, we still need to revisit sportsmanship. Heck, even I struggle with it!

That’s a good point; good sportsmanship is something that most people need to work on, some more than others. And not every situation will be problematic. I have learned to be a good sport in most areas of my life, but there are still some games I can not play.

Some Games Aren’t Worth Playing

Years ago, I realized that I could not play Risk. It started the first time I played the game, and maybe now I’d be able to play with different people. But that time, I played with a very competitive individual who took great delight in thwarting me. Now, I can totally understand the thrill of thwarting someone else in a game, but when you’ve worked hard to build up resources, it can be frustrating. That experience left such a bad taste in my mouth that I haven’t played the game since.

I also struggle with the game Sorry! (my kids haven’t played the game because I refuse to have it in our collection!) and more recently, Catan. Sorry! is just a game I played with very competitive siblings, but Risk and Catan are both resource management games that put you in direct competition with fellow players. So, I know those sorts of games are triggers for me.

But what do you do when you have a child that it seems like they throw a fit every time you play any game? I get it; it’s normal.

Cooperative Games for Teaching Sportsmanship

The first tools in my arsenal are cooperative games. Not all cooperative games are created equal, in that some (like Sums in Space) are only cooperative because you say they are. These are still very easy to think of competitively. Others, like Pandemic or Engineering Ants, are more obviously cooperative.

If a child is really struggling, Gnomes at Night is excellent – as long as you don’t use the timer! This is a cooperative game made specifically for two players, so perfect for a parent to work together with their child.

My family also likes to make games cooperative that wouldn’t ordinarily be. I don’t think my kids have ever played a competitive game of Scrabble, and I know we haven’t played Bananagrams by the rules! We also enjoy a cooperative game of Math Scrabble. Jumanji and the CSI board game are two others my family has preferred when we modified them to make them cooperative.

Lots of Short Games

It can also be a really good strategy to play a lot of short games. This way, your child(ren) can see that everyone has lots of opportunities to win. If you usually play long games less often, then it can feel like a really big deal to win or lose a game. Some games also are played over several rounds. Love Letter, the various 5-minute games (5-Minute Dungeon, 5-Minute _______, etc), Hearts, Spot It!, and Quiddler are all good examples.

Logic vs Luck Games

Some kids do better with games of luck, and some do better with logic and strategy games. Personally, I find it frustrating when I can’t control how well I am doing. However, some kids are better at handling luck-based games. Think back over what your child has gotten more upset over. If they’re like me and prefer control, then try a game like Mastermind. If they do better with more luck, then something like Candy Land will suit them better.

my kids playing Mastermind, which can be a good game for teaching sportsmanship

Checkers was one of the first competitive games I reintroduced to my son. It worked exceptionally well with him because he tends to be a rule-follower. It’s written into the rules of the game that if you can take one of your opponent’s pieces, you have to do it. So it wasn’t just Mom being mean; I was following the rules of the game. This really helped ease him into playing more competitive games again.

How Games Can Help Teach Sportsmanship

Working through sportsmanship, anxiety, or perfectionism is never fun or easy, but it’s so important. We will all have many areas of our lives that don’t go exactly the way we want them to. Games can be a risk-free, consequences-free environment in which to practice the skills of resilience, sportsmanship, and emotional flexibility.

The key is, though, that we have to actively work to create this safe environment in our homes. At least in the US, we are bombarded by society with a need to be competitive. Society, school, jobs, even stores and shopping all foster a sense of competitiveness and are often very high-stakes.

Fostering a Sense of Cooperation

However, within the safety of our own families, we can work to change this competitive environment to one of cooperation and goodwill. My own family often shakes hands or high-fives after a game (have you noticed this at the end of our play-throughs? My kids actively pursue this). My husband has said I’d make a great T-ball coach (he conveniently forgets I can’t hit a ball to save my life) because my kids have started repeating me, “And we all had fun, so we all won!” But it’s true, it really is. Our goal is having fun.

One of the ways we work to make sure everyone has fun is by making gameplay optional. If you’ve watched many of our play-through videos, you might have noticed that sometimes we go from 4 players to 3. Sometimes, one of us (usually my daughter), is done partway through. No big deal; we just continue on. However, I’m not above bribing my kids with snacks!

At the end of the day, learning how to deal with setbacks and complications is an important part of growing up. We can use games to help our kids learn healthy ways to show good sportsmanship and be graceful winners and losers.

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