All speech pathologists play and create games to teach various communication skills. It’s a lot of fun and a powerful way to learn. Many games have a competitive component to them and some kids are less philosophical than others about losing. While a degree of competitiveness is expected, there are circumstances when winning or losing can get in the way of having fun!
Child psychologist and play therapist Melanie Jansen from Play, Heal, Grow says: “From experience, children who lack self-confidence tend to value winning more than others, and in turn, tend to catastrophize losing a game. These children are more prone to cheating, giving up prematurely, or becoming angry if they don't win”. For a speech pathologist, a child who is upset is not focussed on learning new skills. So, how can we get around this?
Play non-competitive games like pretend play or cooperative games. Even competitive games like snakes and ladders can be turned into a cooperative situation, e.g. the players can help each other beat the snakes. For ideas of how to choose games and toys, check this post.
Emphasise the fun you are having, regardless of the outcome of the game. If you lose the game, make a point of telling your child how much fun you had playing with them
Check your own attitude to winning and losing. If you roll a small number or have to go back to start, have a laugh and a relaxed attitude. Refrain from “Yay!” “Aw! comments when things go/don’t go your way. After all, winning or losing is mostly a question of luck.
Sometimes (rarely), children keep requesting competitive games, only to become upset when they sense they are not going to win. In order to avoid an escalation that will end in tears, give them an opportunity to stop the game before the end. It can help a child become aware of mounting tension and act on it before losing it.
As a play therapist, Melanie Jansen reminds us that play is often the medium by which children are able to express themselves and seek to have their needs met. Therefore, for children who need to ensure they have a positive experience of winning so that they can feel OK about themselves or in control, it is really tough to play a game simply for fun and accept losses that may occur. Sometimes, our goal to make every game fun is not realistic. It can sometimes be more helpful to allow a child the opportunity to seek out what they desire from their play.
You could have special game time 1-on-1 with your child: You explicitly allow them to lead the game which includes making the rules of the game (this may include cheating, making tougher rules for you, or changing the rules constantly which will require patience on your behalf!). By allowing this at special game time with you, you allow them to gain what they desire from their play. This can help them to be better equipped to play according to the group's rules at other times when playing with other children.
Recognise and reflect the difficulty your child may have when playing games. The temptation can be to distract them from their frustration or to resolve it for them, and whilst role-modelling playing for fun and fairly is very powerful, so too is the value of assisting your child to recognise and sit with difficulty which may arise for them during the game. i.e. "It's so frustrating for you when you miss a turn."
There are no right and wrong ways to play, just as there are no right and wrong feelings. What are your thoughts and strategies?
Looking for language tips, activities and ideas? This blog is for parents, speech pathologists, teachers, educators and anyone with an interest in speech and language.