We play cards as a family on a near-daily basis, usually over dinner. Our game of choice is Uno. This game is easy enough for a 4 year old to grasp, but still fun for the rest of us. We use the Uno H2O version of the game which comes with plastic cards, not paper. In fact, every month or so I fill the sink with water, bust out the soap, and soak the remnants of meals long forgotten off of our cards.
Playing cards is a great way for families to bond. It turns out that in our case, it is also a great way teach important lessons on good sportsmanship.
Throwing Tantrums and Cards
When we first started, it was really difficult for Elliot to lose. He would throw a tantrum and sling his cards all over the floor. Often, he would do this in the middle of the game after receiving the grumpy side of a +4 wildcard from one of his sisters. Whenever this would happen, we would just continue playing without him.
Do you want to know what a 4 year old hates worse the receiving a draw 4? The rest of his family continuing to play the game without him. Poor Elliot would throw himself out of the emotional frying pan and into the proverbial fire. Ugh.
Week after week the four of us, his two older sisters, his mother, and I, modeled two things. The first was how to have fun in spite of one person’s bad attitude. The second, was how to have fun while losing.
As the rest of us played on, we challenged each other, we growled at each other, and we boasted openly. When we lost, we threw our arms up in the air in melodramatic exasperation! We threw mock tantrums, littered with smiles and silly faces.
When we won, we victory danced. When we lost, we huffed and we puffed. But always, at the end, we accepted defeat and celebrated the winner.
“Good game, Savannah! I don’t like losing, but I am happy for your win. You earned it!”
“Noooo! Mommy is going to win!? We gotta stop her! I have a skip card, someone change it to blue!”
“YES! I CAN! NOT! BE! STOPPED!“
It took months and months, and tantrum after tantrum, but eventually, slowly, at long last, it worked! Elliot is a completely different player today. He still has his moments, especially when he comes so close to victory that he can taste it, and then someone else unexpectedly swoops in and beats him, but the truth is that he is more likely to throw a mock tantrum than a real one.
A New Beginning
The two older girls received Pokémon cards for Christmas, and I’ve been playing with them when we go on our coffee dates. Not wanting Elliot to feel left out, I recently grabbed a deck of cards for both me and him.
The rules are much too complicated for a 5 year old, so I created special Pokémon: Family Rules that keep the game simple and face-paced.
Elliot has already lost to both me and his sisters, and the only time I’ve seen him throw a fit or cry was when he lost his cards and couldn’t play with me.
There are a lot of things I’m doing wrong as a parent. If I was a braver man, I’d write more about those things. For today, however, I’m going to stay content with celebrating this victory because it’s not mine alone. It’s a win for the whole family. We all earned it, especially Elliot.
Pokémon rules are much too complicated for an impatient boy of 5 years, so I invented an easier way to play. My rules allow for a more fast-paced action and an overall simpler, less complex game.
- Start with 7 cards each.
- Use the standard game board/layout and turn flow: Draw, Use Cards, Attack.
- Players can attach one energy per turn.
- All Pokémon do 10 damage per attached energy card.
- All Pokémon have 50 health.
- All attacks require a coin flip for success.
The Fun Part
The excitement for Elliot is found in the coin flip. He loves using the coin that came with his Ice Shock theme deck. The second best part is using the Pokémon that looks the coolest to him, without worrying about stats, numbers, or special abilities. In this game, all Pokémon are equal.
From there you can choose whether you want to use Trainers and Item cards. You can tweak the decks and only use the cards that fit your little person. We have some healing cards and some of the cards that let you dig through your deck and find extra energy or Pokémon. We don’t use evolution rules, a Pokémon can be put into play as the active attacker regardless of stage.
I’m sitting in my office at work as I write this. My oldest daughter, Sydney, is sitting beside me, pecking away at her computer. We are a home school family and this year I am in charge of the Creative Writing class. Each week Sydney and I jump in the car, get away from the chaos of the house, and together we focus on the art of telling stories using the written word.
Being a dad is a pretty good gig, if you want it to be.
I’m trying to come up with a topic for this post when I hear Sydney ask me, “Why are you staring at the ceiling?” Still gazing upwards, I say the first thing that comes to mind, “Well, I was looking down at my computer as I was thinking, but then gravity pulled all the good ideas to the front side of my brain, instead of the middle where my thinker is located.” I nod my head downwards and motion to my forehead semi-dramatically before letting my head bob backwards to reclaim it’s original position. I continue in a slow, airy voice, “I’m looking up so that my ideas will float back to a place where I can use them.”
I hold my poker face as long as possible, which isn’t long. I let my head lull to one side and make eye contact with her. She’s grinning from ear-to-ear but her eyelids are all squinty-squinty like she’s on to me. Nothing more is said on the subject. She doesn’t bother asking again, probably because she trusts my propensity towards ridiculous nonsense.
Why Is Tom Annoying?
While we’re on the subject of ridiculous nonsense, have you met my friend Tom? He’s busting at the seams with it. Last week, for example, he decided to issue a challenge, targeted directly at me. He wants me to blog once a week for the next 6 months.
Tom is the sort of guy who knows that friendship comes with responsibilities. A good friend knows you deeply, but a true friend holds you accountable with what he knows. This is the sort of friend that I have in Tom. I try not to let it annoy me.
At the End of My Days
One thing Tom knows about me, for example, is that I love to write. Not only that but he knows I deeply regret when I don’t take the time to do it. He knows that when I reach the end of my days on this earth I will have considered my time a success if I have used the art of telling stories with the written word appropriately. I want to write and share the details of my quest to finally became the man I should have been all along.
Would I like to do this to inspire others? Sure, there’s a pleasant thought. But I’m afraid I’m a little more selfish than that. I’ve discovered a truth about myself and I want to leverage it.
What I’ve learned is this: The more I write about the man I’d like to be, the easier it is to be him.
I’ve been taking my kids to coffee, one child per week, for the past three months. At the time of writing Sydney is 8, Savannah is 5, and Elliot is 3 years old.
The point of this exercise is to enjoy each others company, one-on-one, and nothing more.
But there have been… unexpected benefits.
Howdy folks! I’ve had a few requests for my presentation, so I made a quick export to PDF.
Thanks to everyone who attended! I had a lot if fun and learned quite a bit myself! This was my first real speaking engagement and I was really encouraged by the warm reception.