For the past 20 years I have been surrounded by young children. I have seen them in therapy as a speech-language pathologist and I have raised three of my own. I LOVE kids! But what I do not love is one phase that so many of them go through; that which I like to call the “sore loser” phase.
Winning and losing games for the 4-7 year old set can be a bit of a minefield. At any given moment, the individual who is winning might pick up that dreaded card that sends them flying backwards and it is as though the world is coming to an end. It is heart-breaking (for them and for me). And yet, I am convinced that the very reason most of the games for kids this age include this random potential for going from winner to loser in the blink of an eye (or pick of a card) is that this is something that kids really need to work on.
The Concept of “Gray”
Kids at this age are beginning to grapple with the concept of “gray”. This is when they begin to find out that “not everything is black or white”, “things change”, “life isn’t always fair”, “randomness happens”. These are upsetting concepts, particularly for kids who are sensitive, competitive or inflexible.
For many of these kids, we adults have worked hard to help them prepare for change. We have consistently used the “5-minute warning” approach. We have used social stories. We have provided them with visual schedules. But we can’t use these strategies to prepare kids for unexpected changes.
So how do we do this? Well, I am a firm believer in not addressing these emotionally laden topics in the moment. Trying to reason with a kiddo who has just landed on a “chute” and is plunging back to the beginning of the game is not the right time. But there are lots of ways that we can lay the groundwork when emotions aren’t running so high. And this is where that wonderful word, “maybe” comes in.
I absolutely love to sprinkle in “maybe”s wherever I can. By doing so, we begin to help kids appreciate that life is random more often than it is predictable, and that that is okay. Here are some of my favorite Maybe Games:
- When driving in the car, ask your kids whether the next light will be green. Here’s the script I use, “Hey guys, do you think the next light will be green? Maybe it will BUT maybe it won’t. Let’s wait and see.”
- When visiting my favorite ice cream spot, I might say, “I wonder if they will have my favorite flavor today. Maybe they will BUT maybe they won’t. Let’s go find out.”
- I share therapy materials with others at my practice, so when on the way to my room, I might say, “Will we play Elefun today? Maybe we will BUT maybe we won’t. Let’s go to my room and find out.” I start with toys that an individual kiddo isn’t particularly invested in and work up to the favorite toys.
Once kids are doing pretty well with chiming in on the “maybe” mantra, I begin to introduce the games that really drive this concept home. When playing Chutes and Ladders, for example, I remind kids each and every time they are about to take a turn that “maybe you will land on a Ladder and maybe you won’t, we will have to wait and see.”
In my experience, the more a child is given the opportunity to use this mantra, the quicker they are able to internalize the idea that randomness and unexpected change are not always a bad thing and the quicker they work through this difficult phase. Maybe you will find this helpful and maybe you won’t. We’ll have to wait and see