My parents were recently in town for a visit. My family enjoys playing games and my youngest daughter Sarah, aged 7, was really looking forward to playing her Papaw in the board game Stratego.
Anyone remember that classic strategy game? For those having never played it has a similar concept to chess -- two players face each other by controlling their own pieces which are numbered 1-9 and which only they can see. The pieces are moved against one another and when two occupy the same space the numbers are announced and the lower number takes the piece. Each player has a flag to protect and when a player's flag is found the game is over.
My dad hadn't played the game in about 20 years and as I was helping Sarah set up her pieces, I felt like the odds were in our favor. The game began and our strategy was working beautifully. My only problem was Sarah's attention span! At 7 and with some ADHD tendencies this game (or any game) can be difficult for her….and she was fading. I asked if she wanted to keep playing and she said "no". So, I took her place and she walked around to my dad's side of the table where she immediately announced, "Wow Papaw, you better be careful or my dad will get your flag which is right there" and she pointed right to it! Bummer. Game over.
Any parent has been in those situations. Games don't go as planned with kids. They lose interest, they begin playing games with the pieces, they cheat, they walk off in the middle, or they point to a flag.
I just looked at my dad and said, "Sorry dad, she's 7."
He laughed and said, "Yep, she's 7."
But my question is how do you handle those moments? Sure, it can be a little frustrating to set up a game only to play it for 5 minutes or to have the pieces launched across the room. Are you going to get angry with your child? A few of those episodes and they might not be too interested in playing again. Are you going to take a hard line and "teach them they have to earn their win" and always play to your ability leaving your child losing every time for about 12 years until they can beat you honestly?
One piece of advice which is given to parents is not to "exasperate" our children. It's good advice. Exasperation or frustration can suck the life out of kids and dampen their spirits. I've seen it and so have you. I don't care if you're teaching them a board game or trying to teach them a larger skill like how to play tennis or the nuances of baseball, if you force them to play and frustrate them in the process by your determination for "how it has to be" then you aren't helping anyone. In fact, you most likely will be partially or fully responsible for their lack of interest in participating in those things. Ouch.
What would I recommend? Remember it's a game. It's supposed to be fun. If they want to play, that's a win already because they can't learn if they don't play. And hold your plan loosely. You may get through all of what you planned, but maybe not, and that's okay. It's quality time together. It's learning a new life skill. It's building their self esteem. It's having fun. King me!