Let them win: why you should let children win at games.

I want to begin by clarifying: I am not an advocate of mollycoddling children. Mollycuddling? Yes Coddling? No. When under pressure and outnumbered by whingy teens and moany toddlers, I have uttered the words ‘tough’, ‘life is hard’ and ‘get over it’. Often in the same sentence.
And, I still maintain you must let them win. More specifically they have to start by winning a higher proportion of games than they lose.
Losing at games is valuable and character building. We use it to foster resilience, but as adults competing against our peers we forget all too quickly what it’s like to play an imbalanced game. As the youngest in a family of four I remember well the people who always beat me and those who let me win. Much as losing is lauded as a necessary and useful experience, how many of us – hand on heart- enjoy a game if we know there is no chance of winning? If you have a game on the shelf which you never, ever win, the odds are it’s not your most played game. The building of resilience alone is not enough to motivate us to play. So, if you want someone to play with in the future, letting them win is essential.
By allowing children to win you are doing two things: showing them that they can win and modelling what good losing looks like (hopefully). Showing them that they can win keeps them motivated. It allows them to experience the joy of winning and allows you to reinforce the behaviour of a gracious winner. (Again, hopefully).
I am determined to instill these skills in my children. Losing can be disappointing enough but sitting there, nursing your bruised ego as someone victoriously dances around you thrusting a winning hand towards you with the words ‘In your face!’ is the last thing you need. No-one wants that gamer at their table. And for me, I want my children to be inclusive and included.
When you allow them to win, it also allows you to be a gracious loser. Congratulate them. Share their joy. Discuss how they won; let them give you tips, regardless of the fact you helped them win. Reset the board , shuffle the cards and show them that defeat can make you more determined than ever.
Of course, everything in balance. Don’t let them win every time. I have always viewed it as a sliding scale – as toddlers I made sure they won a good bit more than they lost. They had the best memory in pairs, the keenest observation skills in Dobble and were just generally luckier.
As they get older and more proficient, they win less. They don’t notice. They generally take losing in their stride because they know winning is something they can do. By the time they’ve reached the ripe old age of 12, I go for the win every time. With them being steeped in games since birth and having young, agile brains means I get more chances to model being a gracious loser than I might like. I might have been told off by a 10 year old for dropping my final card with the words ‘In your face’. That might have happened. I am only a person after all. But as long as we strive for perfection that’s alright, I think.
So, what happens at your table – are you hard-arsed winners, limp losers or somewhere in between? What balance of wins and losses have you “arranged” with your children over the years? Leave a comment below.

Come along and play some games at a Cards or Die event. I won’t let you win! Unless I lose in which case it was definitely to shield your delicate ego.

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