Cheating to lose

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.

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3 thoughts on “Cheating to lose

  1. My highly competitive aunt couldn’t *stand* losing, so would invent elaborate handicapping systems for herself when playing games with my cousin. (My uncle, not remotely competitive but deeply opposed to deception, did the same.) My cousin contrasts this, in memory, with the moment when he learned that our grandmother *had* been cheating to lose, and the utter sense of betrayal he felt when he realized that all those years he’d though he was winning card games against her, he’d actually been being duped.

  2. How in god’s name would you even begin to arrange for Eila to win at Clue? I don’t understand . . . I guess I’ll have to test it soon.

  3. DR, you remind me that one of the themes of this blog is “they fuck you up, your Mum and Dad.” Cheat to lose and some kids will feel betrayed. Don’t cheat to lose and you’ll win every game, demoralizing the child. Either way you cause scars. Or, at any rate, you might.

    Obviously there are middle grounds. Handicapping is one way — this is kind of like what we do here, which is essentially cheating to lose but in a pretty obvious way. Not trying too hard would another way: going on auto-pilot and playing badly. That way you’d probably still win most games but lose some.

    This is really part of a wider discussion you’ve posted on before. How much do you strive to build a child’s confidence with praise (and winning games), and how much do you encourage her to do better by laying off praise (and making her lose some games)? We all try to find what works for our particular kids, and we’re all in the ballpark of good parenting, but nevertheless we all screw up sometimes. At least I know I do. And maybe Eila will grow up to remember times I’ve betrayed her, or maybe she’ll be kind and let it go. Probably a bit of both.

    Elvis, darling, it’s super easy to lose at Clue. You just don’t act on what you know. But here’s the big news: Eila beat Jake and me just about fair and square yesterday. “Just about,” because I admit I simply told her the room — once I’d figured out that Jake had figured it out by asking two cards in his hand and getting no showings from either of us. But then he screwed up totally, made an erroneous guess about what was in the pot, and ended up out of the game. Eila won immediately. Jake took it like a man, as did I.

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