Everyone likes to be the winner in a competition and family games is no exception. Adults as well as children want to collect the most play money or find the best hiding spot. Most adults have learned to enjoy the game whether they win or lose, but children often find losing extremely disappointing if not humiliating. As a result, protective parents may let their little ones “win” whenever possible. Who hasn’t pretended that they can’t find a small child hiding in plain sight? Or fumbled the ball so your little baseball player can make it to first? The trouble begins when you always let your child win, even as they reach school age. This behavior might seem like a kindness, but it may be reinforcing some negative behaviors. Everyone has to lose sometime.
Letting Kids Win
Letting tiny children win at games just makes sense. The little ones don’t have the skill to compete, and being constantly defeated only makes them feel powerless. Plus, they may decide to avoid playing with you at all costs and hang out with the dog instead.
However, as your child grows older, they need to experience losing. Experts note that around age five, children start to be competitive and compare their performance to others. Those who win all the time do not learn how to “persevere” in the face of defeat. Winning that comes too easy leaves them unprepared for life. If they find school a challenge, they may simply give up.
In addition, when you constantly lose to your child, they may begin to see you as inept. They need to know you are an intelligent, fully functioning adult who is capable of buying Boardwalk without going bankrupt. Otherwise, they may doubt your ability to care for them properly.
Giving Children a Little Help
That’s not to say that you can’t make accommodations for your child. After all, they are not as strong, fast, or coordinated as you are, so they need a little help like getting a head start in a race or being able to pitch closer to home plate. In board games, your child can use some help counting and a little extra time to make their move. Maybe even some hints or suggestions for getting the correct answer. Giving them aid is different than letting them win. “Leveling the playing field” is just being fair.
It’s also important that children enjoy some victories in these competitions. Children who are constantly defeated in family games may stop trying because they believe losing is inevitable. These kids may become chronic underachievers. Children who know how to win, and to lose, are more likely to be prepared for school and other challenges.
Teaching Children How to Lose
You can teach your child how to lose gracefully and not let losing affect their self-esteem. First, you should model good sportsmanship. You should also lose well, and not just in family games. When you are defeated, avoid making excuses and criticizing the winner. When you win, behave yourself as well. If you show disdain for losers, your child will be afraid of defeat.
Also, focus on your child’s performance. Praise any improvements they make as well as their effort. Do not give in to their temper tantrums, and do not let them violate the rules in order to win.
You certainly do not want to trounce a two-year-old in a foot race or spike the volleyball on a four-year-old. But you do need to strike a balance between winning and losing. As your child grows, begin competing with them in earnest. When Mommy and Daddy win sometimes, your child will be better adjusted and have a more realistic view of the world.