We went through a phase when our youngest son was around 3-4 years old, where we couldn't play any games where there was a winner or a loser. We would either have to always let him win (not very fair on our 5 year old who also disliked losing), or avoid playing competitive games altogether to avoid the epic meltdown that was to follow.
Now I knew that this was developmentally normal behaviour but this didn't make it any easier to endure. He insisted on playing games but couldn't handle defeat. My dilemma was that to always let him win wouldn't be teaching him how to deal with the feeling of frustration and failure which he will inevitably have to deal with in life. But was his brain even developed enough to understand the concept of winning and losing?
So for a more peaceful life, I researched alternative board games that are cooperative, where players work together to reach a common goal. Here are my top three picks which are tried and tested in our household:
This is a great family card game, where you have to work as a team to block off escape tunnels to stop the bandit getting away. You can play
alone or with up to 4 players (or more) and whilst the box says age 6+ we have been playing it since the kids were 4. It's one of my personal favourites but be warned, you need a lot of space to play it. Cost is around £10 and it's available on Amazon here.
A cooperative whodunit board game, you need to work together to decipher clues to reveal which fox ate Mrs Plumpert's prized pot pie. You can choose your difficulty level and kids love using the decoder tool to read the clues - did the fox wear glasses or carry an umbrella? Suitable for 2-4 players aged 5 and above with a playing time of around 15 minutes. It's another fun game for adults as well as kids. It is around £16 and you can buy it here.
This is a great little dice game. The mice (players) work together to "eat" all the food in the kitchen before the cat gets to you! It teaches children about probability and risk and the double sided board means there is an easier and harder version for different ages. Suitable for 1-6 players, the age recommendation is 7+, although I would say 4+ is more appropriate. Around £20 and available here.
Some other games that aren't officially cooperative but can be modified if necessary to make them less 'winning' focussed include:
- Ravensburger Labyrinth Junior - work together to retrieve the items rather than race.
- Bananagrams - there are lots of little games you can play where you can work together or independently but in a non competitive way.
- Cranium Junior - everyone moves each turn even if you don't get it right.
- Cluedo Junior - work together rather than against each other to figure out whodunit.
I'm pleased to report that we seem to have come through the other side of the tantrums now, and although both boys still have a fiercely competitive streak and dislike losing, they can now accept it. Usually. We no longer need to modify games but we do still get plenty of play out of the cooperative games.
Do you have any other recommendations for family board games for kids who hate to lose?