Laura L'Herault is the owner of a Denver-based GREAT PLAY, a children's gymnasium helping infants to tweens with stability work and manipulative and locomotor skills. She is also mom to a rough-and-tumble 4-year-old boy. She knows the ins and outs of sportsmanship both on and off duty. L'Herault is a seasoned veteran and creative force behind healthy sporting activities.
It's not all about winning and losing
First, parents need to realize that there will be winners and losers in every game. This is the nature of games. Second, parents should learn how to reward different parts of the game instead of the final moments, where the winner and loser are determined. Many key moments throughout the course of a game deserve recognition and praise — not just the final outcome. This is critical to recognize while teaching sportsmanship to youth.
"As a parent, be encouraging and positive during the entire game. Demonstrate the value of positive reinforcement at every opportunity that you can. Even if someone is going to jail in Monopoly or getting knocked out in Sorry, you can still praise thoughtful sportsmanship from children who politely follow the game's rules. Say something like, 'Hey, that’s okay. You are a great dice-roller and will get back in the game in no time.' Good choices are just as important as winning," explains L'Herault.
Nip cheating in the bud
Following rules is a part of life and games. However, how many times have you known there were a pair of threes in your daughter’s hands, but she still tells you to go fish? It's hard to catch the sneakiness in every child, but it's important to address it once you discover it. "Everyone knows cheating gets you nowhere. It's okay — call the children out on their actions and show them how it will be okay if they tell the truth and don't win the game or perhaps lose a turn. Honesty needs rewarding," says L'Herault.
Encourage gracious defeat
And the big debate: winning and losing. Is it okay to let children lose? L'Herault certainly thinks so, specifically in the environment of a child’s own home. "We let Evan lose at the board game Sorry. We knock him out; it's part of the game, and he needs to learn. Are we going to try and let him win most of the time? Of course! But he needs to learn that the light is not always shining on him and to accept defeat graciously."
Following L'Herault's tips of thoughtful and consistent encouragement and being both winners and losers, your next family board game, bowling night or bocce ball tournament will be more peaceful and pleasant. Family is for fun — bring in healthy sportsmanship and these tools, and your family members will be superstar team players.