I spent a couple of hours teaching Declan how to play a chess-like boardgame called Stratego earlier this week. He enjoyed it so much that he protested adamantly when I had to stop to cook dinner. His pestering for "one more game" continued for some time until it was thankfully redirected towards his Uncle Casey, the minute Casey walked in from work.
Casey doesn't subscribe to my philosophy of letting the 6-year-old win when playing board games. This tends to lead to some heated arguments between the two, as Declan typically claims Casey is being mean to him and Casey, just as stubbornly, insists Declan "must learn how to lose."
"I'm not playing with you Declan. It will be just like last night with the Zathura game, you will get mad at me when I beat you," Casey said as he maneuvered around the pleading youngster.
"Please play Tortego with me, you won't beat me, I promise!" Declan assured him as he clasped his hands together and attempted to again position himself in front of his uncle.
"Yes, I will and you get mad at me for even trying," Casey replied. Declan repeated his assurances, "I promise, I won't lose so I won't get mad at you. I won't lose!"
I wasn't sure what was more comical, Declan's unwavering confidence combined with his mispronunciation and attempt to convince Casey what a wonderful thing defeat would be, or the polar opposites the two were at when it came to what the core problem was.
For Casey it was a simple matter of Declan needing to learn to accept loss as a necessary part of the learning process in any competition. Casey was determined to do his part as a mentor and in his eyes the loss would be a valued experience that his nephew would reap long term benefits from, once the 6-year-old stopped throwing a fit, that is. That analysis does assume that it wasn't simply about winning for Casey too. Looking back on the discussion now I have to wonder.
For Declan it certainly seemed to be a simple matter of sticking with his initial goal of winning. If he won, which was already his goal when the game began, Casey would never have to hear him complain, therefore no problem. His logic was simple and had the appeal of youthful innocence to it.
As the debate continued back and forth for several more minutes I finally attempted to mediate by explaining to Declan he couldn't always guarantee a win and knowing how to lose was just as important as knowing how win. Then I mumbled something under my breath to Casey, reminding him of the youngster's age.
Declan looked up at me with that all-to-familiar expression of disappointment in my ignorance. I could easily read his thoughts, "What do you mean you can't always win? You don't know anything."
At the same time Casey was giving me a similar look and mumbled something to the effect of Declan's age not having anything to do with it.
I could see I was outnumbered so I played my trump card. "Will you guys quit messing around and get the table set? No one's playing anything until after dinner anyways." Not wanting to be left on the short end of the stick on a taco night, the pair quickly began to scurry around the kitchen in response.
I may not have all the right answers, but if I learned anything growing up with five siblings, it was that he who controls the flow of food always has the final say.