You’re playing a game with your child, and it’s your turn. Your next logical move will end the game with you as the victor. Your opponent? He has no idea. He’s so excited at the prospect of winning, he can barely contain his glee. So what do you do?
Do you follow the path to victory or lay the groundwork for defeat? Here are two different perspectives on whether or not parents should let kids win at games. Read them and then sound off in the comments section below!
Don’t “Cheat to Lose”: How Kids Learn From Losing
By Jason Schneider
How many times have you played a game with your child and let them win, or as I like to say, “cheated to lose”? Be honest … 10 times? 20? 50? Always?
Well, I’m here to officially say, “Cut that out!” Sure, it’s important to give your child a positive experience with games, especially given all the other entertainment distractions out there, but there are better ways to do it. There are three main reasons why we let kids win at games:
1) We want to build up their self-confidence.
2) We can’t stand the way our kids act when they lose.
3) We don’t like the game and just want it to end quickly.
Instead of letting them win, try these approaches that benefit your child and won’t leave you with a big headache:
1. Focus on the IN-game, not the END-game. There are ways to build up your child’s self-confidence while playing a game without letting them win all the time. We’ve all been programmed to think that playing a game is all about the outcome, and in some senses, this is true. After all, almost all game rules clearly state an “object” along with a specific condition for winning.
But during the course of a game, there are many opportunities to reinforce positive behavior. For example, when your child makes a great move, or happens to get lucky with the roll of a die. Also, when the game ends, try to recall something positive that they did during the game that, despite the outcome, was really awesome.
2. Teach the art of being a gracious loser. It can be painful in the moment to deal with a child who pouts or tantrums when they lose at a game, but learning to be gracious at losing is an important life skill, and it’s a skill they’ll only acquire through experience. Also, research has shown that people tend to learn best from losses and mistakes. As you know from being a parent and a grown-up, life is full of both “win” and “loss” situations. If your child always wins, it’s going to make it harder for them as they grow older to deal with losing, whether it’s at a sport or a game, or in a larger life issue.
Instead of letting them win, take the moment to teach them how to be a good sport. Give them a high five and say “Good game!” or “You were so close!” Alternately, try playing one of a recent wave of games with a “cooperative” bent, like Forbidden Island, in which all players compete together against the board. These games provide a fantastic environment for fostering team effort – and no one loses.
And don’t forget to model good “game loss” behavior. Your child learns by watching you, so don’t sulk if your child trounces you at a game. Be proud that you’re raising a smart kid!
3. Play high-quality games. Don’t get stuck in the rut of playing the same tired old games you played as a kid – many of them just aren’t that much fun for adults. Since the time we spend with our children is both precious and fleeting, why waste it playing boring games? Instead, take a chance on one of the innovative new games out today that offer just as much challenge and entertainment for you as they do for your kids. Parents and kids enjoy playing games like FlipOut and Rat-a-Tat Cat together, and when you’re sitting down at the table playing a game and having as much fun as your child is, no matter what the outcome is, everyone wins!
Jason Schneider is the Director of Product Development and Marketing for Gamewright, the makers of Forbidden Island, Rat-a-Tat Cat, FlipOut, and other quality games for kids.
Let Them Have It: Why Playing to Lose Is OK (Sometimes)
By Sheri Gurock
Doubtless, you can use your cunning adult intellect to trump your child in most games. That’s a given. But you can also apply your smarts to figuring out how to lose inconspicuously, helping your child to win along the way.
“Especially when teaching kids a new game, it’s important to start by letting them have some success,” says Dr. Jenny Berz, a psychologist and mom of two. “Otherwise they won’t want to continue to play. You teach them to play by teaching them to win, and then over time you can make it more challenging for them.”
There’s nothing wrong with this. Letting your kids win doesn’t make you a helicopter parent or a wuss. It just makes a you a loser – and a good one, hopefully.
Being a good loser is much easier when you’re in a noncompetitive mindset. When you make a conscious choice to let your child win a game, you can also make some deliberate decisions about how you will behave at the end of the game. I always high-five my kids when they win (planned or not) and congratulate them. I’m modeling what it means to be a good loser, so the next time they’re playing with their friends or siblings (who will not be nearly as accommodating as I am), they’re better prepared.
Kids get plenty of practice losing – at playdates, on the playground, in sports, at school. They may not always be gracious about it, but it’s not for lack of experience. Learning to be a good winner is just as important. When winning is a rare and precious event, kids are far more likely to celebrate their victories in inappropriate ways. But if my kids gloat over a satisfying win, I can correct that behavior and help them practice other ways to react.
Winning can have other benefits for kids. “If a child has gone through a difficult experience, like moving or the arrival of a new sibling, lots of things have been beyond their control,” explains Dr. Berz. “Winning at a game is a great way for them to take back some power and control, and that translates to feeling more in control of life, too.”
With all this said, I don’t let my kids win 100% of the time. My tactics will vary based on the type of game we’re playing, the length of time the game has been going on, and the mood of my opponent.
The type of game is important because some games are really stacked against kids, while others aren’t. My kids routinely beat me playing Spot It, even when I’m firing on all cylinders. If the game creates a level playing field by nature of its design, I will usually give it my all.
Some games, even competitive ones, create an atmosphere of collaboration. Qwirkle is like that. Each turn, we help each other find the best place to put our pieces, since each new round creates more opportunities for the next person to play. Even Monopoly benefits from a collaborative approach when it comes to trading properties or bailing out a loved one from jail or bankruptcy.
The length of the game is also important, because it usually correlates with the child’s degree of investment in the outcome. With a short game that’s played multiple times in one sitting (“let’s play again!”) it’s easy to trade off winning and losing. With a longer game, there’s more at stake, and kids will take it harder when they lose.
As for considering the mood of my opponent, that shouldn’t need any explanation.
Another approach is to let the child change the rules, if that will handicap the game in their favor (note that this doesn’t work so well when you’re playing with more than one kid). “Doing this allows children to win by a set of rules even if it’s not the set of rules,” says Dr. Berz. “Over time, they can work towards winning by the set of rules.” Some games, like Candy Land, even have alternate rules for younger children that aim to reduce frustration.
Winning isn’t everything, but it does make playing games more engaging and more enjoyable for your kids. As they become more mature, you won’t need to let them win as often (or ever). But until they get to that point, the best way to ensure that they love playing games with you is to be flexible.
Sheri Gurock is the co-owner of Magic Beans, a mom of three, and a veteran gamer.