A Grand Day for Teaching our Children

Today was Grand National day in the UK.

Just about every major Western country has some version of Grand National Day – witness Kentucky Derby day or Melbourne Cup day.

A day where people not normally interested in horseracing or betting are encouraged to be so by coming together to collectively watch the revival of a nationally acclaimed horse race.

A day which is promoted as being a national cultural event – something which we are almost expected to participate in.

In the UK it is one of few annual events which pervades the working environment through the ubiquitiveness of the office sweepstake – perhaps the most popular incidence of gambling normalisation.

And it can be quite hard to see this as being a totally bad thing.

What’s wrong with a one-off event where people can get exited about the unpredictability of live sport.

Not us.

Live sport is exhilarating, full of uncertainty and a mixed bag of human (or equine) emotions as participants’ performances varyingly exceed expectations, or literally leave them face down in the mud.

And having a sweepstake pick, or a yearly flutter, to help add interest and have you yelling from the rooftops isn’t a terrible thing on its own.


… in amongst your excitement there is a lesson to remember about what your own children are learning from observing you.

Early life impressions are just as significant and potentially pattern forming as first impressions.

We know that winning the first bet you ever make can be a major factor in creating a misleading “positive” brain association with gambling, one which can lead to unrealistic expectations of success and act as a gateway to harmful sustained involvement in gambling.

Well, so can the witnessing of seemingly positive and noteworthy emotions in your adult role models when you are young.

Formal education is outweighed by observational learning.

What we see happening around us.

While most of this is gradual assimilation of pretty unexciting behaviours we are particularly captivated by more occasional and unusual reactions in our elders.

Seeing our role model adults getting very excited creates a positive and intriguing connection between their reactions and the causal triggers behind them.

Today the Favourite won the Grand National.

This is quite unusual. The factors which make the Grand National an exceptionally unpredictable race – the extreme distance, the high fences, and the massive number of runners – tend to mean that favourites do not win.

Normally children see both the excitement of the race, and also the disappointment of it not resulting in a winning return.

That in itself is a useful lesson.

One which demonstrates that excitement does not depend on financial outcome but rather on the fleeting possibility of things working out as you want them to, and that whether that dream scenario ultimately works out or not doesn’t negate the sharing of excitement which preceded it.

Memorable reminders that most of the time gambling isn’t a guaranteed route to winning, and being able to shrug off another loss at the end of the race and still have enjoyed the spectacle is a healthy response.

Never mind, there’s always next year.

But on days like today more of our children will have seen excitement peaking towards the end of the race – and jubilation lasting long afterwards.

This is of course fantastic for those who did win, but please spare a thought for the impact on your kids.

Whether you won or lost, but especially if you did win, please take time to sit down and explain to your children what gambling is.

Make sure they understand that events such as the Grand National are not about winning, but about entertainment.

That if you did win that is no reason to expect to win again.

That if you lost then there is no need to immediately try and make up for that loss. Same time next year will do.

That way you help create safer futures for your children – and they in turn for theirs – futures free from involvement in harmful gambling.

And then next year you can all enjoy not winning together.