How Chess Imitates Life (in parenting)

Parenting: it’s always one decision after another. And sometimes there is little time to think them through. First, a situation arrives. Make your move. Check. Then, the reaction. Whether it’s from your little one their school or caregiver, you’re on to address the situation again. Sometimes, parenting backs us into a corner.

Check mate.

As parents, sometimes it seems like one decisions leads to another. It’s easy to feel like we have no way out. No matter what our response, we’re always playing into someone else’s strategy.

But it doesn’t have to feel that way. Sure, at times we are limited in how we can respond. And, cliché as this sounds, sometimes chess does imitate life. However, as parents, we can strategize. It’s usually just a matter of looking ahead two turns. Since parenting is so unpredictable, don’t fret every decision. Instead, look to how you can influence the outcome.

One Step Ahead

It’s true, that as parents, we are playing a game. Sort of. Think of it this way: what you want and what your child wants are not always going to line up. In the end, our kids will appreciate our choices made for them. But that is a long way into the future. And let’s face it, kids don’t have a magic ball that looks past what’s for lunch.

Parenting requires us to think on our feet. Much like chess, we can choose to either react or act. What’s the difference?

Your little one throws a tantrum at the front door. You’re already late. You react, threaten a time-out or taking away a toy. How did that work? Chances are that your little one will draw you in to a losing argument. Think about it: how many of these arguments have you ever won? My guess is that the odds are against you. Despite that knowledge, you go ahead. Instead of being ten minutes late to work, now you’re maybe thirty or more minutes late.

Instead of reacting, act. Look at your little one’s behavior as a well-known opponent. You’ve played their game before. In fact, you’ve played it so often, you can anticipate their next move. So don’t react, act. Take that knowledge and use it to cool the situation. Don’t threaten. Rather, show some flexibility. Go with the flow. Whatever caused the tantrum, give your little one options to resolve. If they can choose, most likely the situation will draw down fast. In fact, you’re moving your pawns to funnel their next move. Check.

Know When to Surrender

This move actually follows up on the previous section. But compared to the prior example, perhaps there is no move that will give you the win. We all like to win, however, it’s just not always possible. Especially in parenting.

In spite of this, knowing when to admit to surrender can be a win. If it’s with your child, you’re showing the flexibility and love in your decision making. Your child will remember this. Usually, these defeats are minor. How often do we fuss over the color of a shirt or matching socks? Too often. And the result is fruitless.

Be a worthy opponent. By doing so, you’ll be making the parenting process far less adversarial than it needs to be. Playing fair is a lesson we can all practice. Further, it demonstrates how to properly resolve conflict with our little ones. Check.

Protect Your Queen

Your queen is not a mere pawn in chess. As a matter of fact, she is far more than that. She is the fundamental piece on the board. Like in chess, your queen is not a pawn. She’s not a piece of your life you or your little one should dismiss without consequence. In life, your queen represents the principles you parent by.

For certain, young toddlers and infants won’t get this. But your older toddler and growing child will. Your queen represents the house rules. Although flexibility is important in parenting, make sure your child knows which rules are not negotiable. Like in chess, these are the rules of the game. And just like in chess, they can’t be broken.

But make the rules known and easy to follow. Offer incentives for good behavior. A chart with simple chores is a good first step. It lets your little one know what you expect of them, and what the stakes are.

Unlike playing to win, when you protect your queen, you and your little one are engaged in gamesmanship. As the parent, you’ll know when to go head to head or simply back off. However, don’t sacrifice your queen―your most important house rules―to avoid conflict. Let’s face it, conflict is unavoidable in life. So instead, use that conflict as a teachable moment.

Is it a challenge? It sure is. But why opt to play a game if you knew it was a sure win? Chess, like life, is full of surprises. Anticipate when you can, and know the rules. Setting out the rules makes for clearer decision making in parenting and allows for your little one to anticipate which behaviors are best. Check.

Check Mate

Before you call out those words, survey the board. Have you followed the rules? Are you being a good player? Remember to give your child the options to participate and make decisions. You should both be active players in the parent-child relationship. Because parenting is a give and take, and you are making the rules, it’s okay to be flexible. Any good ruler is, especially your queen!

Anticipate your child’s reaction. You know them better than anyone else. Life is unpredictable. And every day new scenarios will present themselves that test both you and your child. But don’t let those circumstances cause insecurities that box you in as a parent. You’re the seasoned player. Your child is looking to you see if you act or react. Actions always speak louder.

If you’ve done the game justice, you’ll take some of the challenges of parenting away. Your strategy will guide your child. Instead of the unknowns, life will become little black and white squares that you can easily manage. Check mate.

Before you go, check out another great article from the Mom Advice Line Community:

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