When it comes to children’s games, playing the game matters more than winning. But some healthy competition is also good for children – when it’s handled well. You can teach your child about fair play and how to cope with the disappointment of losing.
Children and fair play
Playing fair is about learning the rules of the game and putting them into practice – whether they’re special family rules for card or board games, or the rules at Saturday football. This way, everyone gets to enjoy the experience.
In some games, you can make up new rules. This can be a great way for children to learn about solving problems together and being flexible.
Fair play is also about learning social rules, like taking turns and being polite. For children, it might mean helping out another child who is having trouble with the game, or giving others a fair go at winning.
Helping your child with fair play: tips
You can use the following tips to help children of any age learn about fair play and enjoying the game.
Children learn about fair play by watching what you say and do. Following the rules, accepting referee decisions and being a good sport yourself all set a great example for your children. You can be a good role model on the sidelines too by saying things like, ‘Better luck next time’, ‘Good try’, ‘Well played’.
Fair play and competition
Competition can be good for children
When children compete against each other, the game becomes a challenge and motivates children to do their best. It can improve skills, encourage discipline and focus, and make children feel good about their achievements.
Competition also increases the desire to win. And that’s when children can sometimes find it hard to play fair. Because they want to win, they might challenge rules and other players. Some might get into arguments with their team mates and even start cheating.
You can help your child have a good experience at competitive games by thinking about whether the game is suitable for her. Here are some questions that can help you work this out:
Competition works best when you set out clear and fair rules before the game begins and make sure everyone sticks to them. It’s also good if children are all at the same skill level.
Children deal better with competition as they get older. It might be best to wait until your child shows an interest in playing a competitive sport.
When children aren’t playing fair
Here are some ideas for those times when your child is finding it tough to play fair:
Winning and losing
It’s not about winning or losing – it’s about how you play the game. When your child understands this, she’ll be a ‘good sport’ and have fun playing, no matter if she wins or loses.
Winning is a great feeling, and it’s OK for your child to feel proud of being the winner. It’s also important for your child to be a good winner. This means showing sympathy and support to the losing team or player. If you can, try to discourage your child from boasting and instead highlight the fun that everyone had playing the game.
Sometimes it’s hard to turn losing into good news. But emphasising how well your child played is really important in helping him handle any bad feelings. Praise your child’s efforts. For example, ‘You were great at helping the younger kids’ or ‘You followed the rules really well’.
Children – and even adults – find it easier to lose in a game of luck than in a game of skill. This is because losing a game of chance doesn’t say anything about you or your abilities. If your child is having difficulty dealing with losing, try playing games of chance first, then build up to skill-based activities.
Some games of chance include Snakes and Ladders, Snap, and Trouble.
Games of skill include Connect 4, Chess, and Pick-up Sticks.
It’s tempting to let your child win. It can keep her interested in the game and boost her confidence. You can let young children win from time to time, especially if they’re playing against older people. But letting your child win all the time can make it harder for her to learn that she won’t always win in the real world. It might make real winning less satisfying.