My daughter (age six) is currently obsessed with playing Connect 4. We have the Red Sox / Yankees edition. But she is finding it frustrating. Her strategic thinking skills just aren't developed enough for her to win more than the occasional round, and I am constitutionally incapable of cheating to let her win. With this baseball-themed edition, the person who wins nine rounds first wins the game. This morning, when the score was something like five to two, she became very whiny and defeated.
But I believe in growth mindset (the idea that one's abilities can be improved through practice and hard work). So first I:
- Explained the difference between games of skill and games of luck. ("You will never get better at Chutes and Ladders");
- Reminded her that I don't cheat to let her win, so that when she does win, she knows she really got me; and
- Told her again and again that she needs more practice, and that she will get better.
When none of things approaches perked her up, I tried something new. We played a couple of rounds in which I explained to her what I was doing as I was playing. ("I'm going here to block you from getting three in a row here", etc.) She didn't end up winning those rounds, but the process still seemed to perk her up a bit.
Currently (after some time in between spent doing other things) she is downstairs playing Connect 4 with her babysitter (who also doesn't believe in cheating to let her win). I just heard a cheery "Heh, heh, heh" from my daughter, so it sounds like she's doing better, but I haven't checked in.
Here's the thing. It's difficult to listen to your whiny, defeated child when she is losing at Connect 4 (or anything else requiring skill). You feel a bit mean, knowing that you have had X more years of practice with strategic thinking and playing games. But I truly do think that this is an occasion that calls for tough love. Here are some of the things that my daughter is learning as she struggles at Connect 4.
- How to cope with failure, and try again;
- How to be a good sport, even when you would prefer to toss the pieces onto the floor;
- How to take an extra minute to check your logic before you drop that piece into the slot; and
- How to anticipate what the other person is going to do next, and preempt them.
Hopefully she will eventually learn that she improves with practice. That's a message that we try to convey to her in many contexts. When the day comes that she gets to nine wins before I do, and that day will come, it will be an accomplishment that she can be proud of.