Have you ever observed a child playing a game and getting more and more upset as the game goes on? Maybe this upset has turned into a full-blown meltdown, bringing the child an undesired outcome with peers, or embarrassment after the storm has passed.
I’ve worked with many children over the years for whom competitive games, whether active or a passive board game are a major trigger. Whether it is actually losing, or the thought of losing, it doesn’t matter. More frustrating is that the kids will usually refuse to listen to ideas that may help, or take a break from the game. In fact, just like a moth to a flame, they keep returning to what is upsetting them, over and over. I’ve had kids, screaming in tears, insist that they are neither crying or upset in order to continue to try and play.
Here are social coaching tips to help:
Preview the rules of the game. Sometimes the problem is that the child doesn’t understand the rules. Or, if other kids change the rules as kids will do, make sure that the child is kept up-to-speed.
Play a game just for practice. When we are learning a new board game here, we play as many practice rounds as needed without the win/lose element. While we learn and practice, I also coach the kids on how to handle the moments in practice where it would have been a “lose” or play that goes against them.
Reinforce that most games (unless they are the Olympic games or other meant-to-be-competitive scenarios) are not for a trophy and are meant to be social and fun whether you win or lose.
Encourage the child to take a break when you hear the beginnings of frustration or you notice that there is “no fun on anyone’s face” anymore.
Praise the child when they take a break on their own. Give space for the break and process what happened after everyone is calm.
There have been some kids over the years that competitive games are just too much, and will always be too much. In this instance, I encourage those kids to practice self-awareness and accommodate their social needs by choosing to participate in other activities that they enjoy and that will not become a trigger.