Today, I really put my brother on the spot. Of course, he can handle it… but it felt so unfair and demanding.
Wednesday is our day to watch the little nephew, and often we get to see a bit of my brother if we’re lucky. Anticipating this, my son lugged along his magnetic Chess set. He was on fire to play someone besides his father, who always, inevitably, wins.
Being the good sport – and good uncle – that he is, my brother agreed. Unfortunately, my son made a mistake early in the game.
Now, we’d spoken to him about asking to have a move taken back. Because, in the real world, it’s not fair to take a move back. On the one hand, it makes the other person look like an ogre if they say no. On the other, they may be giving up a victory if they say yes.
Either way, it’s not good sportsmanship, and it’s not the way to play a game.
And yes, it breaks my heart to enforce this rule. Because of course we want to allow him to take his move back and go again. We’re not monsters. But if we teach it at home, he’ll expect to be able to do it everywhere… and have a meltdown when it doesn’t happen.
Meltdowns are not good.
We believe in the “train as you fight” saying. It’s why we always, always take turns. And so, now, he has no problem taking turns. It’s why we work to provide consistency in his life, and try to avoid confusing exceptions. A great deal of difficulty – and tears, and hard feelings – can be sidestepped if it’s simply the rule to always act courteously and with good sportsmanship.
Of course, what I’m leading up to is the “May I take that move back” question.
Naturally, my brother would have said yes. How could an adult not say yes? But what is that teaching my son? My son, who’s learning Chess and will be playing other children at Chess later today? Will they allow him to take back moves? And will he break down in tears if he makes a mistake and can’t take it back?
The right choice was the hard choice.
So I stepped in – at least I could spare my brother that much – and said that we don’t allow takebacks. And my son broke down. However, after a quick talk about keeping the game pleasant – so that Uncle would be willing to play again sometime – he was able to pull it together again and continue the game.
But he remembered to thank his uncle for the game. And he didn’t break down again. The more his games run along these expected lines – no taking back, thanking the opponent for the game, handshake at the end – the easier it will get for him.
It’s so hard to be the firm parent. It’s difficult to enforce the rules and not give way to exceptions and say, “well, if you’re playing with your uncle…” Or Grandpa. Or Father. But no, not friends. Or with Mommy. But yes if the moon is blue. Way too confusing. And confusion leads to uncertainty, frustration, and meltdowns.
So, yes, sometimes our hearts bleed. It can be painful to stand by the rules. But sometimes it’s the only way we can help our children succeed.
Note: Plenty of children out there are able to handle exceptions. Able to understand them and easily differentiate between appropriate and inappropriate. My son – and many others with autism – have great difficulty in this area, and benefit from strict rules and guidelines. Never have I read about the effect on the parents… but I’m sure many others have felt the same anguish from standing by the rules.
By the way, he won his Chess game later that afternoon. And looks forward to a rematch with his uncle. 🙂