Encouraging Sportsmanship with Board Games
Board games are a great indoor activity and they are often a lot of fun for kids. However, the competitive nature of many board games can lead to frustration or disappointment that is hard for children to cope with. Children may have difficulty accepting losing a game or taking a turn that doesn’t go well and the unpredictability of games can be fuel for these challenging moments. Fortunately, there are ways to change your communication style during games or even modify the games themselves to increase appropriate engagement and reduce challenges related to winning and losing. These modifications and communication strategies help your kid focus on the most important part of games: fun! Here are some tips:
- Model appropriate sportsmanship
Play a board game with your child and model appropriate ways to respond to disappointing turns and turns that other players take. Show them that you can be happy that they had a successful turn (“That’s so exciting!”) and that you can be OK when a turn doesn’t go your way (“Oh no. Maybe next time!”).
- Acknowledge good sportsmanship
Make sure you point out and praise when your child handles a negative (or positive!) event or outcome of a game appropriately. Focus on their good actions throughout the game instead of praise for winning the game (e.g. “It’s so cool that you stayed calm even though you didn’t get the card you wanted.”) Talk about how their positive behaviors make you want to keep playing games with them!
- Modify the game
Make simple rule changes before the game begins. If you have a game that involves drawing cards, such as Candyland, you can sort out the cards before the game starts and remove cards with special actions, such as those that make a player ‘stuck’ or send them far forward or far back on the board. Similarly, if you have a game with a spinner or dice, you can modify the rules to reduce negative actions. For example, rolling an ‘X’ can mean ‘go again’ instead of ‘skip a turn.’
Eliminating special actions or changing negative actions into neutral ones can increase predictability in a game and reduce the potential for frustration around turns that don’t go as hoped. Modifications like this don’t have to be forever! Once your child is able to control their frustration and have fun without the special actions, you can try adding the special actions back in.
*If you are going to change the rules, be sure to do so before the game begins. Let all the players know that it is alright to change rules as long as you do so before the game begins and everyone agrees to them. If your child has trouble accepting the idea of rule changes, try letting them add their own silly rule to the game to go along with your changes!
- Play a cooperative game
Board games called ‘cooperative games’ are designed to be played as a team and do not involve a single winner or loser at the end. Cooperative games eliminate frustration that may surround winning or losing to another player, but still allows children to use their turn-taking skills. Some cooperative games for children include Snug as Bug in a Rug, Snails Pace Race, Feed the Woozle, Hoot Owl Hoot, Outfoxed, and Count Your Chickens. If you want to try out collaborative play without investing in a new game, you can modify a competitive game by sharing one piece and taking turns moving the piece.
Playing as a team via choosing a cooperative game or modifying a competitive game to be cooperative supports teamwork and positive social engagement, as children share in the joy of a good turn or cope with an unideal turn together.
Using strategies to promote sportsmanship skills with your child during board games helps them develop this skillset in a safe and familiar environment, so that they can rely on a strong foundation of sportsmanship skills in physical sports, games at school, and even into adulthood.