Letting a Child Win - How Bad?

Filed under: Opinions, Expert Advice: Toddlers & Preschoolers, Expert Advice: Big Kids, Expert Advice: Tweens

"You're it!" Photo: stockxpert.com

When playing a game against your child (checkers, chess, Candy Land) do you let them win?

Many parent-friends were split on this issue -- and had pretty strong feelings about it, I might add. So I asked Parental Advisor Robert Schachter, a New York City-based psychologist and faculty member of Mount Sinai School of Medicine, if it's cool to let kids win or if it's better for them to let them "practice losing."

"It's cool to let them win," Schachter says, "As long as you don't let them know you're letting them win."

But what about the idea that they're going to lose in the real world, so they should get used to that experience in a safe environment?

"Every parent has a rule-book that's exquisitely detailed in terms of 'This is what you do to raise a kid,'" Schachter says. "Sometimes this rule-book is based on a reaction against what their parents did, or imitating what their parents did that was positive." Okay, I can see that.

"But," Schachter warns, at times, "the rule book may not have any correlation to what's appropriate developmentally for a child. Just because a parent has a justification for their behavior, doesn't mean it's developmentally helpful to the child."

His main point: "Making a child feel bad doesn't help them do better." Schachter adds that the more often you can help a child feel successful, the better prepared he may be for challenges he will face in and outside the home. His rules for playing against a child:

Be a teacher, not a staunch competitor. "It's just like how, until a certain age, you make decisions for your child. Then, as they start to be able to make decisions for themselves, you still tell them your decisions but you carefully explain to them your rationale so that they start to learn how to make decisions for themselves."

Up your game as the child improves. "When he can fight harder, you can play harder. You don't need to let them win every single time if they have equal abilities. You need to help a child learn the skills to fend for themselves. I think the more success a child can feel the better, but you do need to teach them the skills of competing so you should push against them as hard as they can push back."

Remind yourself why you're playing the game. If your child has become an equal rival at a game, it's one thing to play hard against him or her. But if you're clearly far stronger at a game, Schachter asks, "What's the point of winning when you're playing a child? If the adult is always winning, it just makes the kid feel like he can't win."

So, how bad is it to let a child win? Not bad, as long as you don't make it obvious that you're letting them win and you continue to up your game as the child improves.

Have you had a less-than-perfect parenting moment and you're wondering, "How bad?" Send it to PrincessLvsPink@Gmail.com and it could get addressed in this column.

Sabrina Weill is editor-in-chief of PrincessLovesPink.com.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.