How To Talk To Your Kids About Chess

How To Talk To Your Kids About Chess

| 217 | Fun & Trivia

You may have seen the news: the app has reached number one in popularity for free games on the App Store. I can hear your sigh from across the screen because you and I both know the gravity of the situation. This is no Flappy Bird, Temple Run, or Candy Crush situation. This is a big deal; this is chess.

Your fears are confirmed; your child has been playing blitz throughout dinner, talking about "blunders" and "forks" (not the ones on the table), and asking if they can sign up for a "FIDE rating." All weekend, you hear "chat, then we go here, takes, takes, takes, here, no no no chat, here, then you grab the juicer chat, it's so obviously winning chat," coming from their laptop. You've decided it can't be put off any longer... you need to talk to your child about chess.

Reassure Your Child

Developing an interest in chess is perfectly natural, and your child needs to know that. You remember your first checkmate, your first heartbreak (a loss from a completely winning position), and your first tournament. Your naive fascination for one of the oldest board games on Earth developed into a meaningful life-long relationship, through hardship and victory, and now it was time for your child to discover this wonder of life for themselves. 

When you talk to your child about chess, make sure not to confront them. Don't make them feel shameful about their new obsession with tactics or GothamChess recap videos. Encourage them to explore chess in a healthy, informed way. Sit down across from them with a chess board and talk through tactical themes, explain your own excitement for chess, and help them to make a ChessKid or account (depending on their age).

Encourage your child and help them during this important transition.

If your child becomes comfortable with talking to you about chess, then you're already doing great. If you don't have this conversation, then your child might end up doing nothing more than playing ultrabullet and grunting disdainfully at you whenever you mention "Chessable" or "studying." Even worse, your child might end up quitting chess altogether and playing checkers.

Speaking About Chess Respectfully

Have you seen your child posting: "HAHA L NO CHESS RIZZ RESIGN RESIGN RESIGN" in the chat box when they've been playing online blitz chess? It's every chess parent's worst nightmare, but one many of us must face to some degree throughout our child's development. It's your responsibility to inform your child about chess manners and etiquette, whether that be shaking hands before an over-the-board game, or letting them know it's not okay to constantly send thumbs-down emojis and spam "resign" to opponents in the chat box, no matter how much material they may be down.

Lashing out is a natural behavior that needs to be addressed with an extra dose of understanding.

Show your child how to report unkind behavior from their opponents instead of returning the negativity, and don't worry... I won't tell them about the trash talk between you and your friends when you're playing blitz at the bar on the weekend.

Introduce Them to Chess in a Safe Way

It can be easy for kids today to be drawn into "KILLER OPENING TRAPS THAT WIN IN 5 MOVES!" when what they need are solid foundations and opening principles to nurture their chess development. After all, skipping to the Tennison Gambit: Intercontinental Ballistic Missile Variation when they haven't yet learned "knights before bishops!" or "control the center, castle and connect your rooks" is a dangerous game, and will more often than not end in disappointment. 

Chess content creators are awesome, and you enjoy them yourself, so don't withhold fun chess content from your kids. Instead, show them rating-appropriate content. The landscape has changed since we were kids, and now all your favorite content creators are making beginner-friendly videos and courses. These are great for your kids, and healthy ways to engage in fun chess content without being peer-pressured into all the latest opening gambits and traps just because their friends are trying them.

Practicing Safe Chess

It can be hard to know when to stop when it comes to chess. It could be a three-hour bullet chess binge late at night or "just one more game" when there's still homework to be done. Your child must learn when to stop. For many of us, we learned the hard way: tilting 300 points of blitz Elo in a single evening when we have deadlines coming up, dinner to make, and laundry to fold.

But it doesn't have to be this way!

You can make a difference in your child's chess development. Encourage them to play rapid chess, or to play with increment. Inform them of the dangers of 3+0, playing f6, and not castling. It might be hard now when everyone at school is playing blitz and dirty flagging their opponents instead of learning how to play practical endgames, but your child will thank you in the long run. When they're 1800+, you might even get a "thanks."

It is important to establish healthy limits to your children's chess habits.

The Issue of Elo

Ratings and Elo are huge talking points among chess-playing adolescents, and such discussions can, unfortunately, devolve into competitive comparisons such as "my blitz rating is 1300" and "oh, well my peak rapid rating is 1450." These my horse is bigger than your horse discussions are commonplace among individuals whose prefrontal cortices are not fully developed, and while they should grow out of this in time, if such behavior goes unchecked, it may become entrenched.

Encouraging healthy discussions about rating, such as "your rating is 1400 now, and I know it's frustrating to you that this is the same as it was 6 months ago, but it's clear to me that your endgames have improved substantially in that time" is strongly encouraged. Focusing on the positives of the situation, instead of just the number, will assist your child in his or her chess development and help foster a comfortable, respectful relationship with both chess and their peers.

Focus on your child's achievements instead of encouraging unhealthy comparisons with other kids—or yourself.

Remind your child of their achievements or specific games where they played well; show them the love that we should all better show ourselves when playing chess. I know there are many of you out there whose chess-playing inner child is still focused on blitz ratings. It's important not to speak about yourself in this way in front of your children because they will learn from your behavior and mindset. Showing them that "bigger number = good, smaller number = bad" could damage their relationship with chess as they grow.

The Inevitability of Heartbreak

As children grow up, they form all sorts of attachments, whether these be to people, TikTok dances, or chess openings. A devastating loss in their pet line of the Sicilian Defense: Hyperaccelerated Dragon Variation at such a formative stage in their chess could mark the end of an era, and a lot of heartache. "I'm not playing this opening ever again!", "It was my favorite opening!" or "I can't believe it would let me down!" are all sentiments you may be hearing after a five-hour classical game that didn't go your child's way.

These feelings of disappointment over a chess game or chess opening your child had put a lot of time and emotional energy into are very natural, but that doesn't mean they're easy to deal with. Such difficulties are part of life, and most of us can still recall our first heartbreak in the game of chess. Make sure you're there to support your child without judgment, "I told you so," or "I knew that opening was too complicated for you at this stage."

If you want your child to stay honest and open with you about the chess openings and strategies they are using, then this is when they need you to support them the most. Let them know that you're on their side, even if they hung their queen with an hour on the clock.

Be there for your child when they are faced with the inevitable disappointments of chess.

To Conclude

Ultimately, when it comes to their child discovering chess, every parent knows they're in for a bumpy ride. There will be highs: the excitement of the World Chess Championship, seeing your child's eyes light up when their favorite streamer takes part in PogChamps, and your child's first classical FIDE-rated win. But, you know, there will also be lows: rating fluctuations, schoolyard teasing about the London System, and seeing Danny Rensch in a giant pawn costume.

We may not have all been afforded such a supportive start to chess. I mean, playing Chessmaster alone and getting one weekly after-school session on ladder mates might have been the extent of your developmental support during your period of chess discovery, but we can do better by our kids and provide support for them in improving at chess, being respectful towards other players, and perhaps one day even beating Mittens

Did you enjoy this article? Let us know in the comments below, and tell us how you were first introduced to chess. Be sure to check out Lularobs on Twitch!

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