I have a hard time beating my son. Slow down, I’m not talking about discipline. I have no problem tanning that butt if he gets out of line, but I’m talking about playing games with him – video games in particular. For the past couple of years we have developed some father-son bonding time over the Xbox or, more recently, the Nintendo Wii that I was given for Father’s Day. I typically like to choose games that we can play cooperatively, like Lego Star Wars or Shrek 2, but not all of our games fall into that category. For whatever reason, the folks at Nintendo have deemed that most of their multi-player modes/games must be competitive rather than cooperative. So instead of us being able to play as a team against the computer, we have to go against each other most of the time on Wii sports, etc.

This isn’t necessarily a problem because my son’s age and vitality give him a decisive advantage in some games like Wii Boxing. When you literally have to swing your arms in the air continuously for three minutes, the five-year-old has it in the bag. It took me a few good pummels before I chalked my first victory. He didn’t mind by then because he’d already left his old man looking like a Kimbo Slice victim many times. The problems came later.

My son has an older cousin that he spends a lot of time with, and said mini-mentor introduced him to the fine art of trash-talking. So one day my mild-mannered son transformed into this loud-mouthed braggart when he picked up the controllers. “You’re going DOWN, daddy.” At first I just giggled, but he was really into it. He’d roll a strike in bowling and where we used to give each other high-fives, I now got a “Yeah, in your face!”

What made it worse was the reversal when he lost. Eventually when his streak of luck ran out and I’d notch a win, he’d damn near drop those very expensive controllers on the floor and frown like I’d cheated somehow. I had to set him straight quickly that that was not how you behave when you lose. I took it a step further to tell him that the trash talking wasn’t polite and I hope that’s not what he does in school to his friends.

After a few more games I took a moment to ponder his behavior and realized that part of it was my fault. There were times when we played that I did indeed let him win, especially if it was a new game. I’d try not to make it obvious, but I wanted him to keep playing and not get discouraged. My wife is also guilty of this when we play Candy Land, letting him draw a new card if she sees it will send him back to the beginning of the game. It’s not that we want to spoil him; we’re just trying to keep the experience fun. But is that the way to do it?

Social Psychologist Susan K. Perry advises,

“Instead of letting your child win, try making the game fair from the get-go. Suggest a handicap before the game begins. For example, say, “Because you haven’t played this game as many times as I have, you should start three spaces ahead of me” or “Because I’m older, you should have an extra turn.” If you both agree on the changes, then you’re not letting her win – you’re changing the rules together to make the game fair.”

We only allow him to play video games on the weekends, so I’ll give her tactics a try. If this doesn’t work, my little braggart might have to get his butt whooped. What would you do?

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