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PARENTS : Fair Play : Competing at games can be a touchy situation for adults when the opponents are their children.

August 14, 1992|BARBARA BRONSON GRAY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Barbara Bronson Gray writes regularly for Valley Life

Sometimes, for parents, winning isn't good news.

"When we're playing tennis, my son, who is 9, will tell me I'm playing too easy. Then I'll hit the ball a little harder and he'll get frustrated and want to quit," says Cindy Pardee, 39, a tennis teacher and realtor in Westlake Village. "And just playing backgammon the other night, Matthew wanted to stop when he was losing. We insisted he stick it out."

When parents and children compete--whether it is a rally on the tennis court or a game of Monopoly--it's often hard for parents to know how hard to play. A roll of the dice, a serve, and everything is fun--until someone is way ahead.

If the child is winning, he may gloat, and if he's losing, he may be tearful and frustrated, says Robert L. Docter, professor of educational psychology and counseling at Cal State Northridge.

"Young children especially, up to about the second grade, very often have this great need to win and when they are not victorious, they have a tantrum," Docter says. "All children need to realize a game is a game--and so do a lot of parents."

But Docter says that if games and one-to-one sports are handled well, they can teach children sportsmanship, problem-solving skills and motivation. Children need to learn how to lose, and they need to be encouraged to enjoy a game for its own sake, he says.

To ease the edge of competition, Robin Little, 39, of Sherman Oaks, chairwoman of the San Fernando Valley Alcohol Policy Coalition, scales down the rules for her younger child, Andrew, 7. "There are people who take the attitude with kids that life is tough and you better learn it fast," she says, "but I prefer to just try to make it easier for the children."

Stuart Cutler, a licensed clinical social worker with a private practice in Westlake Village, says that both parents and children suffer from society's overemphasis on the end product of winning. "Competition is healthy as long as it's not to win or lose but as motivation just to do your best," he says.

Cutler recommends that parents not gloat when they win or get angry when they lose.

"It's a tough balance. It's crucial that children sometimes win and sometimes lose," Pardee says, "but they cannot lose too frequently." Children who find themselves consistently losing may start thinking they can never win, and may start avoiding games and competition. Docter says parents need to be sensitive to such a trend and find games at which the child can succeed.

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