Z taught me a long time ago that you have to cheat to lose when you play with little kids, and tolerate it when they cheat to win. At the time I wasn’t sure whether this was healthy but it seems to have worked fine with Emma and Jake, to each of whom we lost every game for years and years, and neither of whom has grown up to expect to win, or to be a sore loser.
Sandor would maybe not like it: in the comments a couple of posts ago he writes that “feigning is not good for the feigner or the feignee.” He’s right in general, but the critical – and interesting – thing about cheating to lose is that the child is part of the conspiracy. Eila doesn’t know, and yet she does know. She’ll say: “I’ll play if I can win,” or, “we’ll have a race and I am going to be the winner, okay?” It reminds me of a scene in a Tim Wynn-Jones novel in which a kid who’s been winning family card games for years suddenly says: “Why do I never lose? I’m old enough now to lose sometimes too.”
For a while, cheating to lose didn’t work with Eila since she had trouble dealing even with a minor set-back, and would run to her room to sulk before I had a chance to fix the dice and fall behind. A little chat with the school mums revealed that pretty much every kid in her class flew into a Queens-never-lose, game-dumping rage when Candy Land was going badly – I thought perhaps they all weren’t ready for board games. But things have improved dramatically in the last week. Z and I still arrange that she wins almost everything, but Jake doesn’t – and when he beat her at Clue the other day she took it in stride.