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January 16, 2014
The Real Issue
Cheating at Candy Land
by Cyndie Swindlehurst


Is it okay to cheat when you play Candy Land with your kids? Not so you can win, but so your kid can win and the game will finally end?


I am sympathetic to the plight of any adult playing Candy Land. It is not an interesting game. And when you’ve been sent back to the beginning of the game for the fourth time, the temptation to stack the deck in favor of your young opponent is overwhelming.

But if your motivation to cheat is just to let your child win, there is a very good reason not to do so: sportsmanship.

Candy Land is entirely a game of chance. You pick a card and move your gingerbread man. Then the next person picks a card and moves his gingerbread man. The game goes on like this until someone reaches the end of the road. There is neither choice nor strategy involved. (I suppose you could choose not to take the Gumdrop Trail, but who would do that?)

There is no way that superior skill in anything other than sleight of hand can help you win a game of Candy Land. Unlike Go Fish, Sorry!, Chess, or Blokus, there is no need to handicap your playing to make the game fun and fair for adult and child players. And that makes it the perfect game for teaching small children to be good sports.

To be a good sport, you must be able to weather the ups and downs of a game without becoming ugly. That means you can neither gloat nor pout. Celebrating is allowed (“Hooray! I got Princess Frostine!”), but taunting is not (“Ha, ha — you got Mr. Mint, sucker!”).

Crying at another person’s triumph or at your own bad luck is not sportsmanlike. When you win, you say, “Good game” to the other players. When they win, you say, “Well done.”

The ups and downs of sportsmanship, like so many things, can only be learned through experience. And it is helpful for children to learn that losing a game is not the end of the world. It’s not a cause for distress, self pity, pouting, sulking, crying, or storming off.

Pure chance games like Candy Land are valuable because they let your child learn to lose gracefully without you, the adult, feeling slimy for beating a little child at a game. You can instruct your child on the rules of sportsmanship at the beginning of the game and model those rules during the game. You can also explain to your child the ups and downs he can expect during the game.

When you lose, you can tell your child that you enjoyed playing the game with him, even though you lost.

Your goal — you didn’t think you were just having fun, did you? — is to teach your child that although winning is satisfying, games are fun even when you lose. You don’t want your child to be the one who bursts into tears in elementary school when he doesn’t win at BINGO or the one who storms off the kickball field when the other team scores.

And you don’t want him to be the one who sulks when a game doesn’t go his way.

I admit, this seems like an overly dramatic analysis of the value of Candy Land. And I also admit that playing Candy Land can be maddening. Just when you think the game is finally over, the would-be winner draws Mr. Mint and you’re back to square one.

(Hint: If you need to play a speedy version of the game, put all the character cards near the top of the deck before you start. Then let the game unfold naturally.)

Also, it wouldn’t be good if you happened to win so often that your poor child genuinely felt that the world was stacked against him. Small children cannot usually appreciate the fun of such statistical improbabilities as one person repeatedly winning a game of chance.

But it is a good idea if, at least once in a while, your child loses at Candy Land. And if you think it will crush his spirit, it is doubly important that you let him lose. You need to see, even more than he, that his losing is not the end of the world.

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