Playing games with children can be fun until they try to cheat.
I was having a great time playing with my 7-year-old nephew, it was all fun and games until I caught him cheating, which opened up a conversation about trust and cheating. It got me thinking about how I never LET kids win...and I don't play with cheaters.
So, it started by playing Monopoly (his choice), which he was very excited to play. He talked about how difficult it was, making me aware that he may start to lose interest in the game and allowing me to play more intentionally.
I told him, "This is a hard game, and it takes a long time to play. Let's see how far we get". (That acknowledged his feelings, gave a time boundary for the game, and then opened the door to let him know I was not expecting to play the whole game.) I knew to play this game intentionally and look for moments to keep my cool and control.
So we started.
About 10 minutes in, he was very focused on his property count vs. my property count and that he had "more money" because he was "being careful with his money." (Cue here- money is important to him, and he's focused on getting the most out of it)
I piped up and said, "Yeah, well...we shall see, this game tends to go back and forth often, like life! So, I like to play and see where it gets me. That's the exciting part of the game for me." ( I heard that he liked the money, and I let him know that I'm more interested in playing than the money while making the point of who knows how this will end.)
About a minute later, he says to me:
"Wouldn't it be so funny if you were looking away and I took all the money from the bank? Then I would win."
HALT! I am now quite intentional about the next thing I say to him.
Me: "I can see how you would think that was fun for you, but to be honest- that wouldn't be fun for me."
Me: "Well..because I don't play with cheaters, so I would need to walk away from the game and stop playing. And that wouldn't be fun, in the end."
Child: "Why don't you play with cheaters?"
Me: "Well, honestly- because it would hurt my trust with them. I wouldn't know how to believe what they told me and then I would constantly be wondering if they were telling me the truth or just trying to win. That's not very fun for me."
We played for about five more minutes before he got tired of the game, and we decided not to count money and just clean up the game.
I thought- "YES! A win!"
He realized that he didn't have to finish the game because that was something we agreed upon before playing the game. He didn't need to cheat to win because we had redefined that it was more important to play the game, not win the game. I was so excited, and I told him, "I'm so proud that you asked to stop the game, and I was excited that it didn't matter to you who won, so thanks!"
We took a break and read some books together at this point. It was a great re-connection. We didn't talk about winning or the game anymore; it was just a nice neutral task that brought us both together.
Once the books were all read, he asked to play Battleship.
Me: "Yes, I would love to play Battleship- but I want to warn you, I can be a little bit sneaky when I play. I like to really work to hide my ships. So make sure that I'm someone you'd like to play with, I won't just LET you win." (Set up the boundary of play and make sure he knows that it will be tough- and see if he'd like to engage in the game)
Child: "That's okay, I can be sneaky too- with this guy" (He held up the Destroyer)
So we started playing! It got off to a fabulous start. We were going back and forth, and he was starting to gain on my territory. And then I started gaining on his. We were pretty fairly matched- until I started to win again. I was one ship sunk ahead of him.
And then I saw it...
He. Moved. A. Ship. On. His. Board.
He thought I didn't see what he was up to.
I was aware, from Monopoly earlier, that cheating would be something that he found funny.
I was already on the lookout for it. I kept up the conversation of trust and why it is important throughout my dialogue while playing the game, trying to intentionally reinforce for him what my expectation was...but- nope. He did it anyway.
After I saw him move the ship, I said calmly, "Wow. That stinks."
And he looked up, shocked, and said, "What?"
To which I replied, "I gotta put the game away. I saw you move your ship, and I don't play with cheaters. That stinks."
His response was amazing.
He slowly cleaned up his game in silence. I think he was waiting for me to too;
1) lecture him or
2) try to talk him into playing again with me.
But I just quietly cleaned up the game. When we finished putting it away in the box, he said, "Sorry..." in the quietest voice I have ever heard. I let him know that I was feeling disappointed that we weren't able to finish playing the game, and now I'm going to be more cautious the next time we play together since he cheated.
He quietly said, "Yeah...I know."
And that was the end of it.
We went on to do some other activities together. He knew he had crossed my boundary and that the natural consequence was that I cleaned up my game, choosing no longer to play with him.
It didn't take a long lecture to let him know that I didn't like what he did. It didn't take any more discussion at all. We put the game away, he knew why, and we moved on.
Eventually, it was time for me to go, and just before I walked out the door, he ran up and handed me a piece of chocolate.
I took it as his apology and white flag.
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