Musings on Why All Kids Should Play Board Games and Be Forced to Lose

Tonight my oldest son moved up in Cub Scouts. He went from being a Webelos 1 to a Webelos 2, which is a step below being a full on Boy Scout. He’s an intellectual, so I’m glad he likes Cub Scouts. It gets him out into the wilderness, something I’m not entirely sure he’d do of his own volition. The Cub Scouts take the Cub Scout Promise. You promise to do your best, to do your duty to God and your country, to help other people, and to obey the Law of the Pack. Sounds groovy. Now that we’ve covered that, let me recount some key moments from tonight that led to this post:

The Pack was having a cookout/potluck event for all the scouts to celebrate moving up to the next level of scout. There was food and people and the place was decorated. The tables were set up sleep-away camp style, meaning there were several long rows of connected tables spaced barely far enough apart to comfortably sit. As I am proud of my son, the entire family went. My husband and my tiny two. After we got our food, I found an entire row of empty tables, so I sat down. My 1 1/2 year old next to me; my husband and 3 year old across from us. My older son was off doing stupid 10-year-old stuff. I went to go find some napkins and upon my return find two girls – one 11ish the other 7ish informing my husband that we had taken their seats. I smiled and laughed, and the girls continued to stand there, plates of food in hand. Exasperated, I move my daughter and I and our plates of food to the side of the table where my husband was sitting. The girls sat triumphantly. Shortly after I moved, still not believing what just happened, a Cub Scout walks behind me. He is blocked off because there is another Cub Scout sitting in the seat behind mine with his chair all the way out. I try to scoot in a little bit, but tell the Scout in question that I can’t scoot in any further without squishing my daughter who was now in my lap. The seated Cub Scout looks behind him at us and goes back to eating, so I get up and move for the second time in 10 minutes so a stranger’s child can take my seat.

It’s not the fact there were plenty of other seats all over the dining area that irritates me. It’s not even the fact that there were no parents tending to these children. Or the fact that, at least in the case of the Cub Scouts, they were taught to help others; even though their parents failed to teach them manners, the Cub Scouts should’ve filled that void. What really infuriates me. What really, really makes me want to throat punch a mother fucker is that these kids have the audacity to ask 1) an adult and 2) an adult with a small child to move so they can have their way. This sense of entitlement is out of control. I hate to do the whole “in my day” argument, but seriously, in my day, I would have never even dreamed of asking an adult, a stranger for that matter, to move so I can sit where they are sitting. I would’ve simply found another place to sit, and if there were no other seats, I would stand. Plain and simple.

Because I think board games are the answer to all of the world’s problems, I immediately jumped to board games. Standing at the end this row of tables (because at this point children have filled all the other seats), holding my child, feeding the both of us, my husband jests that this is why kids should play board games to which I immediately respond with “No, this is why kids should play board games and be forced to lose.” Oh, I know. I’m a horrible person. I don’t love all children. I don’t think every.fucking.thing.they.do is soooo cute. I’m a monster.

There’s this whole school of thought that kids need protection – parents don’t let kids out of their sight anymore. They need to be allowed to win – everyone gets a trophy. They shouldn’t have their feelings hurt – here have another cookie and another trophy. And before you write me off as a right-wing mad woman, I went to Montessori as a kid. I was exposed to this “touchy, feely” approach to life at a young age. I then went to eight years of Catholic school and killed any Montessori-kindled spark inside me. That probably explains it.

Anyway, my son wouldn’t have asked an adult to move because he doesn’t think he’s entitled to anything. Here’s a shocker: I don’t let him win at board games either. This argument is not based on science. It is based solely on my rage-fueled-personal-experience-based logic.

Here’s how playing board games and being forced to lose helps my son not be a self-entiteled little shit.

1. He has to display socially appropriate behaviors, sometimes in less than desirable circumstances. As a kid, it’s much easier to be a whiney baby. As a parent, it’s much easier to give my whiney baby of a child whatever he wants to shut him up. Playing board games helps kids regulate their emotions and behaviors. My son is super emotional. When we first started playing board games, he struggled with losing. He didn’t like not making good moves. He didn’t like not being allowed to do backsies. All these things he didn’t like resulted in him crying. “I don’t ever want to play this game again” and “You only win because you cheat” often came out of his mouth. Running off as soon as the game was over was a common occurrence. I could have taken the easy, we’re all winners approach to gaming and started letting him win. A tiny part of me even wanted to do it, but I realized that doesn’t help anybody in the long run. What his less than desirable behaviors led to instead were constructive conversations about socially appropriate behaviors. We had many conversations about how being upset and getting angry is okay to feel, but isn’t always okay to show. We talked about how being overly emotional all the time affects how other people think of him, and how if he’s always sulking, odds are people aren’t going to want to play with him. I shared with him some things that make me really angry when people (or I) do them during a game, and I how I deal with it. And, no, I didn’t tell him to throat punch anyone, which I obviously don’t do in actuality; it’s happening in my mind though. Through being a whiney baby, he has learned how to handle his emotions in a mature way. He now works on channeling that frustration into improving his gameplay, and it’s only made him a better gamer and person if we’re being honest. Sure, some days he’s bratty, but he is only 10. The good news is that he usually self-corrects, which means he actually gets it. And, as I want him at the table, I’m glad he understands how to control his emotions and why it’s so important.

2. He has to take ownership of his thinking. As I just mentioned, my son channels his emotions into improving his gameplay. Instead of crying, flipping the table, or running away from his problems, he thinks more carefully about his moves. When he makes a crappy move, he deals with it. If it’s a learning game, he gets one or two backsies, but otherwise, he knows he commits to his moves once his hand is off the piece/card. I find great joy in his smacking of his forehead because it shows that he’s actually thinking about what he’s doing. His effort is directly responsible for his results. I didn’t create some false sense of intelligence/security by letting him win. I don’t dial down my play, and I don’t tell him what moves to make. After a game, we’ll talk about strategy. Why did he end up with the score he did? How could have done better? What might he like to try next time?

3. He has to stay focused on something other than himself for extended periods of time. I told my son that winning involves paying attention to what other people are doing. You shouldn’t take a move simply because someone else needs it because that’s just mean. However, if you see that by taking that move they will definitely win the game, it makes sense to block their action. This is important because it improves his strategic thinking abilities, but it also lets him think outside of his mind, outside of his person. He has to consider a different perspective. During are post-game strategy chats, we also talk about how other people play. I ask him what I did, what I could’ve done better, what he thinks of my approach to the game, what would he have done if he were me. During this time, I also tell him what I think about his strategy, so he can see his own play through another person’s eyes; it helps him realize that what he does affects other people.

My point is that if I never forced my son to lose at board games – that if I always let him win instead, we would’ve missed out on all of these meaningful conversations. I’m not saying that board games are directly responsible for the fact my son would never ask an adult to move, but I’m not saying they aren’t. What I am saying is that board games help teach my son valuable life lessons, lessons I wish more parents were readily teaching their children.

13 thoughts on “Musings on Why All Kids Should Play Board Games and Be Forced to Lose

  1. This is one the most amazing blog posts I have ever read. It’s honest and I wish that everyone had the handle on reality that you seem to. I made sure my teacher boyfriend read this. Thank You!

  2. Amen, Hallelujah, preach on. My thoughts exactly on today’s kids and why I don’t “let my kids win”. Life is tough, learn it early and how to deal with it. Excellent post from a logical parent. Thank you for making the rest of us sound sane.

  3. Great post. The entitlement that many kids believe that they have these days is amazing and dumbfounding. 2 weeks ago I saw a boy ~ 13-15 years of age throw his juice box on the ground. So I went up to him and said, “Excuse me, but it looks like you dropped something.” He looks me square in the eye and says, “Why don’t you just F%$K off?!”

    Quite surprised, I looked at him, got up close and said, “Pardon me?” He repeated himself. So I got closer and said, “It is clear to me that your respect for your fellow man is the same as your respect for the environment. I do not respect nor tolerate this from anybody including little sh*ts like you. So, the only person who is going to f%$k off today will be you, with your garbage.” He was so startled and taken aback that an adult had actually stood up to him that he very quickly grabbed his garbage, put it in his back pack, and left.

    When I repeat this story to my friends they are alarmed that I actually said something…they all say that they would be too scared too. And this is part of the problem – silence is acceptance. Not having these important conversations with your children, regardless of how that conversation is instigated (and I agree, board games is an excellent catalyst for these conversations) may lead to a child who believes that their first instinct to tell a stranger to F&*k off when they have been called out for doing something wrong is appropriate.

    This is a great blog post. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks. 🙂 I wish I would have said something to them, but it was a function, and I had to quickly weigh the possible turmoil it would cause to do so. As you read, I chose to yield. Like you said, that’s part of the problem: letting kids get away with completely ridiculous behavior.

  4. I agree with your philosophy. I regularly play Tabletop games with my children and we celebrate when they win, and we “reflect” when they lose. My daughter hates losing to her little brother but it’s getting easier for her to accept defeat. At least there is no more tears at the end of a game.

    Just like you, I’m a horrible person. I don’t love all children. I don’t think every.fucking.thing.they.do is soooo cute. I’m also a monster 🙂

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