ST. LOUIS, MO. — I'm not gonna play this game any more!"
For the third time, my five-year-old son had approached the winning stretch in Chutes and Ladders only to be catapulted back to Square 58. He stomped off and sulked.
I knew he wanted me to call out, "Come back! You must have had a faulty spin. Take another turn!" But as a parent determined to raise a kid who played by the rules, I knew this wasn't an option.
What was I going to do about this burgeoning lack of sportsmanship? Lecturing, timeout, refusing to play games until there was an "attitude adjustment" - none of these time-honored techniques worked.
Later, while playing Winnie the Pooh, my son drew a color chip which sent him back several squares. He contorted his face again, obviously shoring up for another hissy fit. This time, out of utter frustration, I imitated him when he was on a losing streak. "Whatta you mean, I've gotta go back 6 spaces! I was about to get the Honey Pot Bonus. I don't like this game! Waaaahhhh!" This prompted him to laugh.
"Do that again, Mom! It was funny!"
Then the rare light bulb of parental genius went on. "Oh, that wasn't me. It was Mr. Sorehead," I smugly replied.
Games began to be enjoyable once again. When anyone, including me, was on a losing streak, it became an opportunity for an Academy Award-winning performance by Mr. Sorehead.
Mr. S would contort his face into a scowl, writhe around the floor like a dying trout, sob fake crocodile tears, and threaten to punch somebody out if he couldn't take his turn over again. My son was beginning to see how humorously pathetic bad sportsmanship was. And even better, he could see that winning was worse than losing if beating one's opponent at any cost became an obsession.
One evening, we were watching a clip of a baseball game on the television newscast. A well-known Major League player, who was angry at an unfavorable ruling, threw a bat and attacked the umpire. "Mr.Sorehead!" my son solemnly pronounced.
He became a fixture at our board games thereafter. We both humorously played his role. He howled when his opponent mastered a multiple jump in Chinese Checkers and he whined about others cheating when he landed on a triple-hoteled Boardwalk owned by another player. He accused others of having X-ray vision and reading through to the other side of the cards in Trivial Pursuit.
Friends who would come over to play games thought this business was a bit peculiar at first, but most of them got used to it and some actually joined in the fun.
At a soccer match once, my son was guarded by a formidable-looking girl who was considerably heftier than he, and who came with a mean parental cheering section. "Kill him!" Kill him!" honked Attila the Soccer Mom. I was worried. Then my son looked at me with an amused expression and silently mouthed, "Mr. Sorehead!"
At swim meets throughout high school, my son would give me a knowing look and roll his eyes when any participant was a bad loser.
Although he didn't become an Olympic standout or even an All-City Swim Champion, he was awarded Most Valuable Player on his own team his senior year. And it was OK.
Can Mr. Sorehead be trotted out and used for anything other than good sportsmanship? Well, no. It never succeeded in getting my son to keep his room clean or turning him into a cheerful early riser. But it did help to teach him an important lesson: Life is full of Ups and Downs. If you land on a chute, don't slide down with Mr. Sorehead.
Parents: To submit a first-person essay on your own parenting solutions, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to Parenting, The Christian Science Monitor, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115.