We spent a fair bit of our time on vacation last week playing two games with the boys: UNO and Spot It. Our son F is wholly competitive; he likes to know all the answers and he likes to win. He really likes to play and giggles when things go his way or when throwing a SKIP or DRAW 4. But he is also beginning to show how much he hates to lose. It turns out he’s rarely wrong about things, so not having things go his way isn’t really a part of his evolving schema. Thing is, he is also really polite. So when his behavior disappoints us, he takes things seriously.

After losing at both UNO and Spot It Thursday afternoon he began collapsing in the chair, throwing his excess remaining (losing) cards onto the table (or the floor) in frustration. After a second dramatic display, I’d had it. I told him he must sit out a game the next time we all got to play. I used the rationale, “Your friends won’t want to play games with you if you can’t celebrate when they win.” And, “Everyone playing the game is aiming for the same goal, we all want to win. Sometimes it just won’t be in the ‘cards’ for you.”

The next game he got to play was UNO and his grandmother won. He said, “Congratulations, Grandma. Well done.” He held onto his cards. He smiled. It was verbatim to how I’d instructed him. And I must admit, something about it didn’t seem quite right.

About 2 hours later the husband read a passage out loud to me from The New Yorker about Peter Thiel and his desire to win, stemming back to his math prowess as a child and his inclination for chess.

He became a math prodigy and a national ranked chess player. His chess kit was decorated with a sticker carrying the motto “born to win.” On the rare occasions when he lost in college, he swept the pieces off the board; he would say, “Show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser.”

And there you are. A parenting perplexity. The question really is, do you want to create an obstinate-genius-winner or a good loser? I must admit, part of me really doesn’t know. But I’m certain there is something in between…