by Stefanie Wilder-Taylor
My five-year-old daughter is a poor sport. She cheats at Trouble, Hi Ho Cherry-O, Chutes and Ladders, Go Fish and basically every game we play. I don’t know if cheating is the right word, well, yeah, it actually is. She likes to change the rules in the middle of the game to suit her needs. Did the spinner land on the bird that eats two cherries from her bucket in Hi Ho Cherry-O? Well, better spin again –that one was on the line. Did she land on the top of a chute that would take her back a bunch of spaces in Chutes and Ladders? Oh that chute is broken. Does she have any sixes? Sorry, those aren’t sixes they’re fours. Go Fish.
We’ve all heard the phrase “it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game” right? In the case of my five-year-old it’s has very little to do with how you play the game and everything to do with winning. Case in point: last night Elby wanted to play one game with me before stories (a famous stall tactic). I agreed to Candy Land which I find to be relatively painless and less egregious than Pretty Pretty Princess, the game we usually play if I don’t pass out from boredom just from anticipating that snoozefest. So Candy Land gets set up and Elby rustles through the cards looking for the ice cream cone –the card that should you draw it, would take your plastic gingerbread man all the way toward the end of the candy path and it would then be poised to win the game in approximately five more turns. Yeah, she’s pulled this little move before.
Normally, she sneaks and puts the card on the top of the pile, tells me she’s going first and then feigns shock and delight that she’s pulled the ice cream cone card. “Mommy! Look! It’s the ice cream cone! Can you believe it?”
“Wow, Elby. That truly is a surprise.” I usually say. But that’s when I think “She’s totally cheating.” And then I wonder if I should allow it, if it’s normal, if it’s healthy but mostly does she seriously think she’s fooling me? As if I didn’t see her put the card on top? She didn’t even try to distract me! My daughter is very talented in many areas but close-up magic is not one of them. I’d tell her to keep her day job if she had one.
So, Elby works her sorcery, pulls the cone card and zips her piece toward the finish line. “I’m going to win! Look! The ice cream cone space is almost at the end! I’m going to win!” she gloats while doing a little pre-win dance. I decide to point out something that was sort of obvious to me but I wondered if it had occurred to her. “Elby, you will get to win the game. But, on the other hand, the game will be over really really fast and then it will be time for stories.”
“But on the other hand, you will lose” she says, looking at me like I’m new to this planet.
“True. I guess you really like to win.”
“I love to win” she says firmly. If this isn’t a teaching moment I don’t know what is but what the heck am I supposed to teach? The kid loves to win. I’m thinking the only problem is that she is going to be in for a rude awakening when she plays another kid who also loves to win and has little to no interest in letting her get away with cheating just to keep the peace.
“So, I don’t mind if you win even you didn’t exactly do it fairly but what’s going to happen when you play with kids your own age? Sometimes you are going to lose.” I brace myself.
“I know that, Mommy. It’s okay. When I play games with my friends I don’t cheat.”
“Oh? And you’re okay if you lose?”
“Sure. Sometimes I win and sometimes I lose. But when I play with grown-ups they don’t mind if they lose and I really like to win so it’s okay.” I have to say that it’s almost impossible to argue with that kind of logic. My kid is five going on thirty-five. With her adult reasoning, I’d love to see what she could do about health care reform. But meanwhile we have a game to finish. It takes about thirty more seconds for her to finish me off. She gets to beat the pants off me and I get to finish the game in under four minutes. I think anyone can see that this is a win-win situation.