Should You Let Kids Win at Games?

One evening, over a fierce game of Memory, I made a conscious decision to not match two cards, knowing that my four-year-old son would turn them over. It wasn't enough to make him win the game (My husband was playing with us, too, and at full throttle, so there was no doubt who would win.), but the small gesture, masked by me "forgetting" where the second card was, let my son bask in the joy of making two more matches.

It didn't really matter who won. To my son, each matched pair was a win, even if he didn't have more pairs than my husband or I at the end. For me, seeing the smile on his face was better than winning any game.

Playing to Win

While I might have gone easy on my son, other parents would never do the same. Laura Doth from New Mexico, a mom of three, says that she's never been one to let her kids win. "Losing gives you the opportunity and the motivation to improve your skills and get better. Then, when you do win, the satisfaction is real," says Doth.

Not letting children win at games can also teach a hard, but necessary lesson: In life, you don't always win. And it's important to know how to deal with it.

Expert Charlotte Reznick, a licensed educational psychologist and author of The Power of Your Child's Imagination: How to Transform Stress and Anxiety into Joy and Success (Perigee/Penguin, 2009) says that some children focus more on the game play and others zero in on the win. "When playing a game with your child, the question of whether or not to let them win depends on their age, temperament and social skill set." says Reznick.

Some children need to win so that they can learn to lose, she says. "Kids learn so much more from what you do than what you say. ... I often 'fake cry' when I keep losing and then reveal my thinking process in getting over it," says Reznick.

Losing Gracefully

Playing games isn't all about winning and losing. For younger children, letting them have the glory of a win can be a good thing.

Life coach Susan T. Howson, a professor of early childhood education at Ryerson University in Toronto, says that it's OK to occasionally let kids win in their preschool years. "Younger children often have a harder time losing a game and (associate) losing a game with not being good at anything. As self-esteem and self-confidence are developing, losing might be a hard thing to swallow," says Howson. Howson suggests that parents throw the game subtly, so their kid doesn't find out. "This will give you an opportunity to then model what it's like to lose and that it's okay. ... You are still a smart, capable magnificent person," says Howson. 

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