Life’s Little Things

Our children have taken their first steps in recognising value and assessing risk

When I was growing up my parents occasionally organised a games night with us. Most important to the success of these evenings was the trip to the local sweet shop to stock up on treats for the event.

Home in our hastily assembled casino we learned the etiquette of roulette, black jack and poker; not to mention how to play a mean game of snap. I remember evenings of terrific fun, spending time together and scoffing goodies galore.

In memory of these fun nights we have instigated a games night with our own children. It may be unwise to teach your youngster to hold a poker face and it may come back to haunt us that our children can now gamble with apparent ease, but an interesting thing happened when we ran out of spare coppers and  began betting with sweets. The wild abandon with which the children bet five and two cent coins was replaced with caution when the stakes became two marshmallows and a jelly snake.

Candy currency

Like most children mine have a rudimentary understanding of money, but translate their calculations into candy currency and they have instant enlightenment. When their pile of goodies could increase or decrease with their fortunes the children quickly realised that normal gorging strategies would diminish their capacity to 'win big' in ensuing rounds. Our regular breaks in play were spent agonising over what to eat and what to save for later.

Over time when we included other friends and relatives their very different personalities and approaches to risk became apparent. Some refused to bet at all and simply waited for the round to be over so they could eat everything in one go. Others were cautious in the extreme as the thought of losing even one sweet was too much to bear.

Despite repeated warnings some poor souls just couldnít wrap their heads around the idea that eating everything equated to being out of the game for good. Others tried to retroactively change the rules when they discovered they had devoured their entire stock "but I thought we were going to share everything at the end?"

My personal favourite was the child who didnít want to play by herself and insisted on partnering up with a grown-up. Sensible move I thought, perhaps she needed help with addition and leaning the rules of each game. It turned out that this savvy little madam just wanted to bet all her partners sweets and keep her own! A selfish but highly effective strategy.


Perhaps I should be worried, am I raising delinquent gamblers with rotten teeth? Maybe I am but these encounters have provided an insight for our children into the nature of value itself. Money is an interesting but obscure notion of value. The sweet in your mouth has an obvious gratification value but the notion of deferring that gratification is a concept that youngsters must develop and adults seem constantly to struggle with.

It was interesting how the perceived value of particular sweets increased as their numbers diminished; just like any currency, scarcity affects value.

We could have spent years trying to teach these dynamics to our children and it may take years for them to apply it in real world situations but they have taken those first steps in recognising value and assessing risk.

I would be lying if I said I encourage games night for itsí educational value; I do not. These are fun filled evenings where we get to play with our children, enjoy each otherís company and we legitimately get rid of all the Halloween sweets; what's not to love about that?