Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Eating crow, along with birthday cake.

In a recent rant post, I spent a lot of words snidely deriding the coddling parents who choose to give their children games with "no winner."  I rolled my eyes at the idea that kids would be undone by a small disappointment and that there was any need to shelter them from that.  My point: if we protect our kids too much from the "agony of defeat" they'll never learn resilience. I was feeling confident and sure of this logic.

Did I mention I came to this conclusion mid-party planning for my 4 year old's birthday?

I basically said: "Screw you, current wisdom!  I'm rocking it old school.  There will be winners and losers at Caleb's birthday party. They kids will deal with it.  It'll even be good for them."  I may have even said if I'm wrong, "I'll eat my words, and maybe that 'hot potato' along with the birthday cake."  

Well, there were winners and losers.  And you can probably guess who the big loser was?  


For my over-confidence in the resilience of 4 year olds hopped up on juice and party excitement.  For my need to prove a parenting point at my own kid's birthday party.  

I did say I'd eat that 'hot potato' if I was wrong.  But there was none.  We used bean bags for games. I suppose technically, beans are edible but... no one is making me accountable so I'll just sit here and humbly eat my words.  And left over party cake.  

We actually never got around to playing that game of hot potato after the carnage from Bozo Buckets.

I thought this game was a good middle ground.  Line each kid up to throw a bean bag into a series of buckets.  All of them would get prizes (the first bucket was a gimme), but just some more than others.  Not too brutal, but still a friendly competition.  

But I miscalculated. A bunch of four year olds barely have the capacity to wait their turn, much less patiently listen to instructions, what with buckets of lollipops and plastic junk, tantalizingly in arms reach.  Even as I was setting up the game, unwrapping the prizes and dumping them into the lined up buckets, the crowd of tiny sticky hands crept closer and closer.  It was intimidating.  I knew at that exact moment this was not going to go well.   

As I patiently and animatedly explained the rules, I looked down at their small faces and instantly understood that no information was getting through. It was blocked by their mind screams of: "LOLLPOPS!  PLASTIC TOYS!!"  
Totally ignoring my enthusiastic instructions, the children zero in on the buckets.
Still, it was the point of no return. I attempted futilely to line them up, but it never got better than an oblong mob of kids jockeying for their turn.  Caleb went first.  You know, to show the kids how it's done. 

He got the first bag in Bucket #1.  Cheers, victory, lollypops!  

Got it in #2.  Cheers, victory, crayons! 

# 3, he missed.  Tears, screaming and ugly spectacle of defeat.  A return to try and steal a toy from Bucket #4. Call for parental reinforcements. 

So, I guess that's "how it's done."   Or how it's undone.  

We got through the game with the older kids understanding the rules and taking their disappointment in stride.  But I had to fend off frontal assaults from Caleb's age-mates who kept trying to sneak prizes they hadn't won, or, failing that, appeal to my dislike of intense whining and fit throwing.  

But I stand by my original point. It's good for kids to learn how to accept defeat in stride.  Just maybe not 4 year olds, and maybe not at what is supposed to be a happy-making birthday party. I'm learning.


P.S. not ALL my parenting instincts are off mark.  The day before the party, panicked at our growing guest list and suspicious that my games might in fact flop, we hired a jumping castle. Best. decision. ever.
They might look vaguely terrified of it, but trust me: it was winning (even, especially?, for the little guy who looks like he's being eaten by the jumping castle)


  1. Oh no! I'm sorry and I'm so glad you had the bouncy castle fall back! We are doing a joint 3yr & 4yr party in May - I will remember this and save the winner/loser games for a few more years. Thank you for taking one for the team!

    1. Yes! Please benefit from my experience here!! Honestly, I think the kids would have been happy to just have some balls, balloons and bubbles to play with. I'll save the games for year 6 or beyond...

  2. Maybe it's easier to be a good sport about losing when there aren't fantastic prizes involved?

    1. That's a really good point. We played another game where kids have to try and get to a person when their back is turned and then have to freeze when they turn around. They are sent back if they move. And the kids handled it a lot better!

  3. I think you were spot on the first time! These four year olds were probably do USED to being coddled with games that had no "winner" that they didn't know how to handle it. You gave them their first insight of what it's like in the real game of life. It may have been hard to watch, but in the end it was probably a valuable lesson.

  4. I think you were spot on the first time! These four year olds were probably do USED to being coddled with games that had no "winner" that they didn't know how to handle it. You gave them their first insight of what it's like in the real game of life. It may have been hard to watch, but in the end it was probably a valuable lesson.

    1. I sure hope it was a good lesson. But I'm still reconsidering that 3-4 year olds even have the ability to handle failure gracefully.

  5. I've been thinking about this post since you put it up, and I think you were right in the first place - to a point. :)

    Kids DO need to learn to lose, to be good sports, to have a bit of healthy competition...you just can't expect them to already know how at 3-4 years old! That's when they're just learning the concept of games, winners, and losers, and in the emotionally charged, high-stakes setting of a birthday party they will definitely lose the plot if things don't go well.

    But honestly? At a party with three year olds it'd be a miracle if SOMEONE didn't lose it - no matter what you did, games or not, so don't feel too bad! It'll make a good parenting war story.

    1. You are so right. And people were really nice about it. My one friend said she spent most of her early birthdays alone in her room for misbehaving. So, I guess at that age it was pretty inevitable. Now I know to stick to jumping around games and music until they are a bit older.

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