Why won't we let children "fail" at birthday parties?

Kinderling News & Features

Musical chairs, musical statues, Simon Says, and pass the parcel. They’re all games you’d recognise from childhood, with one major difference – everybody wins.

Sound confusing? Well that's the basis of of a re-imagined list of traditional kids party games from nappy giant Huggies that was circulated to email subscribers recently, including Queensland mother Zoe Armstrong.

Zoe told the ABC that they games listed traditional rules for each game, but added suggestions for how parents could ensure “no tears” by eliminating the need to have a winner.

While the sentiment was obviously well-intended, Zoe thinks it sends the wrong message to young children.

"We should be teaching our kids to be humble winners and lose with grace while appreciating and enjoying each other's participation in a game. At this age, and any age, it should be about the fun of the game and playing with friends, not prizes and first place," she said.

How do tear-free games work?

Let’s start with musical chairs. In the traditional version, when the music stops, everyone sits down as quickly as possible and the last person to sit is 'out'.

In the re-worked 'tear-free' version, the music plays non-stop and everyone sits down, so that “everyone in the game with no winner and no tears.”

Reknowned child psychologist Michael Carr Greg has concerns about this approach. He told the ABC that rising stress levels in adolescents who are finding it hard to deal with the pressure of real life, can in part, be explained by this type of over-protective parenting.

Michael said: “"What we're doing in the 'no tears' versions of these games is we're basically meaning everyone's a winner, no one ever loses. But what about real life? They're not learning anything."

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A bit of both might be the answer

Think back to the parties of your childhood when winners were winners and the kids who didn’t win, well – we won in other ways, right?

There was usually a chance to redeem a 'lost' game with the next one on offer, and if all else failed, everyone was sent home with a lolly bag or piece of birthday cake at the end of the day.

As Candice Matthews wrote on ABC Brisbane’s Facebook page:

“I am an early childhood educator, and the idea of modifying games so that everyone is a winner baffles me. There are many lessons to be learned in games like these, turn taking, patience etc. Possibly more important than these are learning how to win and lose. As adults we aren't all winners, some of us are losers at some points in our lives. What are we teaching our children if we tell them they are all winners, all the time? How is this preparing them for the adult world?”

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