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Subject: Enforce the rules or let the 4 year old have fun? rss

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Sam Mason
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My 4 year old son constantly plays games with his 2.5 year old sister. One of their favorites is Spot it Animals. Both of them act up whenever they lose. At first, I was afraid they wouldn't want to play the game anymore. But that game remains one of their favorites.

Recently, I bought the game Viva Topo. Now, my little girl couldn’t understand the game yet, but my son does. So, whenever she’s not around, I take out the game to play with my son. But the problem is he doesn’t want to lose any of his mice. He acts out and wants a re-roll every time the cat would need to eat his mice, but has no problem with the cat eating mine. I’ve let him a re-roll quite a number of times already, but I’m being to wonder if I should. After all, he loses to his sister, throws a tantrum, licks his wounds, and then play again the next day. My only problem is he would protect his mice and not allow the cat to eat it. But he’s only 4. Should I just let him have his way and have fun?
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Rachel Poulos
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I'm only speaking from the experience of being a nanny for a year, so I will be the first to say that my opinion of the matter isn't informed by the 24/7 incessant nature of being a parent, and how that influences which hills to die on.

That said, I'm of the opinion that rules should be enforced.

Part of the social contract of entering a game space is that everybody will abide by the rules. You may not mind losing, but as he gets socialized with other kids they may not be so understanding. Additionally, learning in a structured space how to adjust to circumstances outside of our control, or otherwise unexpected outcomes, is a great asset of gaming.
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Cheryll Gerk
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My son is nearly 3 and I enforce the rules of games. I tell him he can play around with the components if he doesn't want to play by the rules, but I will not play the actual game with him if he cheats. His dad will usually get up and leave us to it, if our son doesn't play by the rules.

Of course I let a lot of stuff slide, like 'helping' us or trying to peek under the cards (we mostly play memory), but if he wants a proper game with the 3 of us he needs to keep to the rules.
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Eric Nolan
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I don't know that game but I imagine the idea is the cat eats the mice right? If so then try reframing it as any mice that are caught have to run home and hide (ie: off the board).
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Sharon Khan
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I have always enforced the rules with my children. At some point you're going to have to go through the barrier of enforcing the rules and the tantrums that follow when things don't go their way, and the earlier you do it the better, in my mind. Otherwise you end up with a 9 year old who still always wants things their own way and cheats rather than loses, and that becomes a real problem.
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Princess Beardie
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I've always enforced the rules with my 5 year old ... to a certain extent. Some things I let slide or make it out so it's not a big deal - "oh you've taken 3 cards and looked at them instead of two, I guess you'd better put one back" - but I've always wanted her to learn that losing is not such a big deal. Unfortunately I think it will be drummed into her at school that she must win all the time, but many times she will not and I want her to be able to lose with dignity and not have a meltdown everytime.

However, she still hates losing and gets a bit mardy when she does
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Andy Stanford
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princessbeardie wrote:
I've always enforced the rules with my 5 year old ... to a certain extent. Some things I let slide or make it out so it's not a big deal - "oh you've taken 3 cards and looked at them instead of two, I guess you'd better put one back" - but I've always wanted her to learn that losing is not such a big deal. Unfortunately I think it will be drummed into her at school that she must win all the time, but many times she will not and I want her to be able to lose with dignity and not have a meltdown everytime.

However, she still hates losing and gets a bit mardy when she does

My 7 year old is the same. He loves playing games (Ticket to Ride and King of Tokyo are his faves), but gets very grumpy if he doesn't get things entirely his own way.
 
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Kyrill Melai
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Hivemind wrote:
I don't know that game but I imagine the idea is the cat eats the mice right? If so then try reframing it as any mice that are caught have to run home and hide (ie: off the board).


I know the game and this is what I did with my four year old. Mice caught would continue to look from the side of the board and were positioned as such.

This doesn't help with him losing the game but at least he didn't have to give up on his mice.

Edit: On enforcing rules. As long as playing a game mostly means playing with toys I go light on rule enforcement. When they get to the point that playing a game actually means playing game, like with the six years old, then ruke enforcement becomes more strict. This is different from completely ommitting rules to make the game more accessible for them.
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WD Yoga
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Whenever I play with my son, I use the same rule for both of us. So, if he is allowed to reroll, I am also allowed to reroll. If my heroes got wound from monsters attacking in Arcadia Quest, his heroes also got wound if monsters attacking them.

I think, it is important to set rules and playing fairly based on the rules. That will teach my son on how to respect the rules, respect others' rights and also respect his own rights. So whenever he plays with his friends and they want to bend the rule to their benefits, my son can stand up to defend his rights.

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Maarten D. de Jong
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I enforce the rules, and mostly play to win. Of course my nearly four year old is then super proud, and rightly so, if he wins. If his enthusiasm gets the better of him, which would lead to rules breaking, I threaten to quit, because I play by the rules too. Of course I explain it in friendlier terms than this, but it is definitely the gist of things. This mostly does the trick.

Apart from Memory I of course do play a lot of games in which he has a reasonable chance to win: lots of chance is included, for example. But if the number of pairs in Memory is small, say 12 or so, I really have to grit my teeth, because his memory is deadly accurate.
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Mike B
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Enforce the rules. Let him play with the components or let him play the game. If he throws a tantrum don't play the game with him anymore untill he obides the basic rules of the game, unless you don't mind to raise a kid that throws a tantrum whenever he get's no for an answer.

I actually think playing boardgames with kids is a great tool to ease them up on social rules, like treat others like you want to be treated: wait for your turn like everybody else, don't cheat, don't steal, don't force exemptions just because you don't want to lose.

Whenever I play with my kid he occasionally comes with the line 'don't play your best'. Sometime I can agree to that (by not playing 'too mean' or use my brain too well), but more often I like to adapt to that by making the game harder for me than for him (by getting less cards or cubes, having to get more points than him or whatever).

For example when I play Dobble (same game as Spot it) I agree to wait at least 3 seconds, so he has a better chance.

I think it's ok to 'bend the rules' to be able to play on a more equal level, just make sure how the rules are for you and for him. It's not ok to bend the rules just your kid throws a tantrum because he loses.
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Nathanael Robinson
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I can't speak to the specifics of Viva Topo, but in general, the rules should be consistent. Perhaps if a game gives a disadvantage to someone younger, then adjust the rules for someone younger. Conversely, if a game gives an advantage to someone older, make it harder for them. In either case, adjust the rules before playing and keep them consistent.
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Seth Pinter
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I've played Viva Topo with all 3 of my kids. We typically play by the rules (especially with the 4 & 6 year old, not so much with the 2 year old). With the 2 year old, I often let her essentially make up the game, but sometimes we play by the rules. If we are playing by the rules we don't break them (however, I house rule stuff to make it easier for my kids).

My daughter (2 year old) is the one who had a problem with the cat eating the mice. She doesn't mind as much if I make funny noises and play around with it when the mice get eaten.

In fact, my kids love the cat more than the mice, so in terms of enforcing the rules I have to make them put the cat back all the time.
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Billy McBoatface
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Add me to the "enforce the rules" camp. Viva Topo is great, and one of its great things is that it teaches kids to deal with setbacks. If you let him reroll or otherwise cheat to avoid the setbacks, he is instead learning that he can whine his way out of things he doesn't like.
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Mr Osterman
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Mine are 4 and 8 and we enforce the rules or we don't play. And there are nights where playing by the rules isn't working for them and we just stop playing that game and we seek an alternative activity. There have been some missteps for us: On occassion we'll push back bed time to finish a game only to find out that a) following the rules isn't fun that night and b) the alternate activity is bed making it seem like a punishment.

That said, I think there is a lot of value to the general theme of "we agreed to X so we are going to stick with X" for kids. They agreed to play a game, and that includes agreeing to following the rules for that game.
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Scott
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Sakuko wrote:
My son is nearly 3 and I enforce the rules of games. I tell him he can play around with the components if he doesn't want to play by the rules, but I will not play the actual game with him if he cheats. His dad will usually get up and leave us to it, if our son doesn't play by the rules.

Of course I let a lot of stuff slide, like 'helping' us or trying to peek under the cards (we mostly play memory), but if he wants a proper game with the 3 of us he needs to keep to the rules.


I agree with this. I make sure that my daughter knows the difference between playing the game and playing with the game. She is welcome to do both with a lot of games that we have, but I will not sit down to play the game with her and let her make her own rules and do whatever she wants. My daughter is 5 almost 6 and we've been playing games since she was 3.
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Jamie Specht
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It is a great tool to learn the emotional skills of how to deal with something not going your way. Sometimes it helps to talk through it "I know it's rough. Maybe your next mouse will make it" or to offer a distraction or reward for having a negative event happen and dealing with it. Maybe tickles or something or a special you tube video gets to be watched after the game is done for being a good sport.

(I often work with kids with autism where these skills are harder and need to be reinforced more. So these suggestions might be a little over the top for your situation but can't hurt, at least.)
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Matt D
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As the father of a five year old daughter who has been playing games for almost two years now (starting with Candyland, we're now up to Carcassonne and King of Tokyo), my advice is that the absolute worst thing you can do is allow a child to cheat or have different rules for a game (aside from a dexterity game) for the child versus the adult.

It's not about winning and losing, but it's about being fair and equitable. Playing board games is a great learning opportunity for children, but you want to make sure you are teaching the right things. Teaching that someone can try their best and sometimes succeed, sometimes not, is a good lesson. Teaching that someone doesn't have to try their best because they'll always win is a really bad lesson -- just in general, and then especially when they find themselves suddenly playing against people who don't allow them to win.

Children need to learn to cope with failure at a young age. And I'm not saying that in a Cotton Hill style--it can and should happen organically. If they win all the time, they'll never learn how to handle losing.

As someone else said, if you must modify a rule, modify it for everyone the same. No special treatment for the child, just a change that makes it easier for them. When we play Carc, we avoid the farmers because it's a lot of math for her. The first few times we played KoT we ignored the cards, and just focused on damage, healing, and points.

Here's the tactic we use, because our daughter is EXTREMELY competitive (she comes by it naturally--my wife is even more competitive than I am). I mean, we're talking at the age of three she would "competitively" complete puzzles in day care and then gloat that she finished them first. When she loses at a game, if she reacts poorly, or throws a tantrum, then we put the game away and tell her that we're done for the day. That as important as winning might be, it's more important to be a graceful loser. (Yes, we use that term in this circumstance -- I personally am irked by our trend towards "participation" trophies. If you are playing a game with a winner and a loser, it's not saying the loser is a bad person, they just didn't win that game.)

Every once in a while she has a bad reaction, but for the most part she has learned that if she loses and does NOT have a bad reaction, we'll play again. So she gets the fun again, and she has another chance to try to win.

We also have a six month old son who we imagine will probably be playing games in a few years. When we reach the point that they play together, we want to make sure they are fair to each other as well. The best way to do that is to get her to accept that sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, and hopefully he will emulate that behavior.
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Y P
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Enforce the rules. Better he learns now how to deal with setbacks and lose graciously instead of when he's 25 (or never, as seems to be the case with some people ).

See the various threads on how to teach kids not to throw a fit when losing a game for more info. There's some great practical advice there on ways to ease your kids along and teach them valuable life lessons.
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Brad Pasmeny
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Enforce the rules. AND don't play with a tantrum.

My daughter is now 8. I have always taught her that playing = winning and actually winning is just the icing on the cake.

I have also enforced good winning and bad losing does not equal fun for ANYONE else at the table. And if you are a bad sport either way, people will dislike playing with you and you get to play less games.

She was at a game convention last year and played a pick up game with 4 adults of Ticket to Ride. She came in third (she plays hard, I don't pull punches with her), AND three of the adults came over after the game to comment to me that she was a joy to play with.

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Matt D
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bpasmeny wrote:

She was at a game convention last year and played a pick up game with 4 adults of Ticket to Ride. She came in third (she plays hard, I don't pull punches with her), AND three of the adults came over after the game to comment to me that she was a joy to play with.


Was the only one who didn't come over one of the two that lost to an 8 year old girl at TTR?

I kid, I kid. I'm looking forward to this day. I think my daughter is maybe a couple of years away, but not by much.

I actually took her to my board game meetup a few weeks back when my wife was out of town because she always talks about wanting to come with me to play board games with my board game friends. A couple of my friends indulged her and we played Dixit.

I've always been very impressed by the children at these gaming conventions in that age group that play with the adults, and honestly sometimes you can't tell that it's a kid. It's a sign of parents raising them responsibly and with maturity. Kudos to you, sir!

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bookblogger wrote:
Sakuko wrote:
My son is nearly 3 and I enforce the rules of games. I tell him he can play around with the components if he doesn't want to play by the rules, but I will not play the actual game with him if he cheats. His dad will usually get up and leave us to it, if our son doesn't play by the rules.

Of course I let a lot of stuff slide, like 'helping' us or trying to peek under the cards (we mostly play memory), but if he wants a proper game with the 3 of us he needs to keep to the rules.


I agree with this. I make sure that my daughter knows the difference between playing the game and playing with the game. She is welcome to do both with a lot of games that we have, but I will not sit down to play the game with her and let her make her own rules and do whatever she wants. My daughter is 5 almost 6 and we've been playing games since she was 3.

My approach to this is much more draconian--a clear separation of formal games and things that can be played with in a more freeform manner. The kids don't play with the games pieces. If they want to be creative we have Legos, dolls, blocks, etc. But board games have rules and will be played accordingly. The idea is this avoids confusion between playing vs. playing with and helps set their expectations accordingly when we play.
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K S
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Not a parent, but I am a former child. Growing up, my parents and grandparents not only enforced rules, they also showed me no mercy in competitive games. The mist I would get is the occasional, pre-determined handicap if playing non-children's games with adults.

I occasionally responded to a game setback...erm..."poorly" and the game would be promptly put away and would not come out again until a future time with my assurance that I wouldn't get upset like last time. I think that this atmosphere contributed substantially to my present healthy enjoyment of games regardless of success.
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Shaun Morris
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Enforce the rules. It will help him to improve at the game and it also teaches that sometimes you lose but what matters is the tenacity to keep trying until you persevere.

Additionally, while I have no children, I spend a lot of time with my niece and nephews (the oldest just turned 4). I find that giving in to a tantrum is just bad news. My own humble opinion.

EDIT: At your son's age, I see nothing wrong with giving him a bit of helpful guidance while playing. In general, young children aren't the best strategizers (at least versus adults) and often do not fully take in everything that's happening on the board. I used to get my ass beat in checkers all the time, but the adult I was playing would usually say something like, "Are you sure you want to move there?" if I made a really bad move.

EDIT 2: Corrected a spelling error.
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bookblogger wrote:
Sakuko wrote:
My son is nearly 3 and I enforce the rules of games. I tell him he can play around with the components if he doesn't want to play by the rules, but I will not play the actual game with him if he cheats. His dad will usually get up and leave us to it, if our son doesn't play by the rules.

Of course I let a lot of stuff slide, like 'helping' us or trying to peek under the cards (we mostly play memory), but if he wants a proper game with the 3 of us he needs to keep to the rules.


I agree with this. I make sure that my daughter knows the difference between playing the game and playing with the game. She is welcome to do both with a lot of games that we have, but I will not sit down to play the game with her and let her make her own rules and do whatever she wants. My daughter is 5 almost 6 and we've been playing games since she was 3.


This. It is perfectly fine to play with a game instead of playing a game, but these are distinct activities. If we seem to be heading down that road, I will usually say something like, "Do you want to play the game by the rules, or do you want to play with the pieces?" Then we do that. If other kids are playing (by the rules) the younger kid instead has the option of playing by the rules or quitting/joining "my team"/parallel play with spare components. If we are experimenting with a variant, we always define the parameters before we begin.
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