Should You Let Your Child Win in Games of Skill? | Dad Suggests (2024)

Games are supposed to be fun. At the end of the day, isn’t that really what it’s all about? It’s fun to be challenged, it’s fun to be with friends and family, and it’s fun to use our imaginations and role play. And, of course, winning can be a big part of the fun too. But sometimes we take it too far and we make our joy completely dependent upon winning. Kids are particularly vulnerable to this troublesome philosophy on winning and losing. That is, unless we as parents step in and deliberately teach our kids that the fun is supposed to be found in the experience itself.

But, on the other hand, everyone can admit that it’s not much fun to lose all the time. Have you ever had a despondent child state that they don’t want to play a game anymore because they never win - because they honestly feel like they can’t win? That’s a really sad state of affairs, isn’t it? Trying to explain that the fun comes from the experience itself is good in theory, but sometimes it’s really hard to have fun if you go in actually knowing you can’t win. When self-confidence is on the line, you need to tread carefully.

Here’s the deal: I do not let my son beat me at chess. And I’ve thought about that a lot. The level of skill is incredibly lopsided when we play by the rules, and frankly it’s not a fair battle. That’s why my son and I often play a serious game of chess followed by a silly game of chess.

What’s interesting is that often the silly rules make it impossible for me to win. Not surprisingly, it’s not much fun for me if the new rule is that all of my son’s pieces are invincible. But perhaps that’s what it feels like to him when we play by the real rules.

So does that mean I should be losing games on purpose? It’s a common question, and a tough one. I’ve even randomly brought it up in conversations with other fathers to see what they think. For your consideration, here are the actual thoughts of three of them sitting around the same table when I asked if they ever “throw” games with their kids:

Father #1: “Of course you let your kids win. What are you, a monster?

Father #2: “Never throw the game. When they finally beat you it will mean so much more to them.”

Father #3: “My wife beats our son in chess every time and I let him win sometimes. He knows I’m not as good as her so it’s not suspicious. It’s a good balance.

Father #1: “Wait, we’re talking about chess? No you shouldn’t let them win at chess.”

Why did Father #1 backpedal from his first answer so quickly when he realized we were talking about chess? Why should that make such a dramatic difference in his opinion? I suppose it’s because he realized we were talking about a game with absolutely zero luck involved.

The Case for Always Doing Your Best in Games of Skill

For the record, my personal opinion on this matter lines up very closely with Father #2. I once heard an interview where a man described how his father beat him repeatedly in chess. Then they made a bet. “What do you want if you win?” the father asked. There was a very fancy restaurant in town that the boy always wanted to eat at and he said he wanted to go there if he won.

He continued to lose every single game they played for many more years until one day he finally caught his father with a checkmate. The boy got up and got his coat and his father asked where he was going. He was getting ready to go to the restaurant. His father had long since forgotten about the bet, but, according to the man being interviewed, he thought about the bet every single time he sat down to play his father, and it was one of the best days of his life.

So the question remains: In a game of pure skill, should you ever lose on purpose? There are still some who say yes, but most often you might hear them say “sometimes”. There are certainly possible benefits. It might help build up self-confidence in your child, and it could certainly bring some momentary joy. But even if your intentions are entirely altruistic, it is important to think of the possible negative side-effects.

The Negative Effects of Losing on Purpose to Your Children

There are definitely issues with “throwing” games. First of all, it’s dishonest. It’s basically a white lie. Part of good sportsmanship is doing your best in an honest competition. A child might end up learning the wrong lessons. My 5-year-old is also a very wise little man. If I lost on purpose he would certainly be suspicious. And if he knew that I was losing on purpose I suspect his feelings would be hurt by it. If the goal behind losing on purpose was to build his confidence, it could easily turn out to be very counterproductive.

And what about that self-confidence that you’re trying to give your kids by losing to them? Well that could end up being an issue too. It might end up being false confidence - they might think they’re supposed to win. It could give them an overinflated sense of their own abilities that leaves them too thin-skinned for losing in true competitions in the future.

The good news is that my son does beat me at plenty of things. He recently destroyed me in Kingdomino, and I legitimately did not see it coming. Of course he also wins his fair share of games of chance. And oftentimes we play cooperative games together as a family and experience winning and losing as a team. But he’s still sometimes hesitant to play by the real rules in chess, and, honestly, it’s for good reason. It just isn’t fair yet. So in an attempt to keep his confidence high and his perspective properly optimistic, I have a few simple things I try to do consistently.

How to Approach Competitive Games of Skill With Children

1) Stress the enjoyment of playing the game itself - not of winning. Games exist for us to have fun. The fun should absolutely be found in the gameplay. If everybody isn’t having fun at playtime, you’re doing something wrong. I highly recommend alternating between different styles of games. Cooperative games are fantastic for stressing the importance of the experience, and for de-emphasizing the effect that winning and losing has on our fun. For competitive games, it’s nice to experience games with varying levels of chance and skill to level the playing field. Making up our own crazy rules of chess is another good example of mixing it up.

2) Celebrate clever ideas and small victories in the middle of the game. If they perform a new skill they learned or demonstrate any signs of cleverness, logic, and improvement - celebrate it! Again, the point is that success and pride shouldn’t be dependent on the end result.

3) Modify! Whatever the game is, create situations within the game that have a more level playing field. In chess this could be mini-games, like a pawn game where you only play with your pawns. It could be material odds where the adult plays without a rook or a queen. Or it could be time odds where you give the child more time on their clock than the adult. Use your imagination. I don’t believe in throwing the game, but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with changing the game. It’s more fun for everybody if it’s a more level playing field. And if you’re looking for some more chess-specific ideas, make sure to explore our article on ways to play chess with kids when you’re much better.

4) Explain the concept of a growth mindset. You aren’t born with or without the ability to win this game. Every single loss is merely a lesson that can help us grow and improve and think of even more clever ideas if we have the right mindset. Do not compare yourself to somebody who has been studying for years, compare yourself to yourself from last week. Of course everyone also really needs to get comfortable with losing games of skill. It’s how we learn. Unless you’re the world champion, there will always be people better than you, and losing with grace is an important skill. Read this article on Little Meeples for a wonderful reflection on children winning and losing gracefully.

5) Expose them to players of similar level! This is a big one. Honestly explain that games of skill will very often be won by the person who has put in the most work and has the most experience. Even if we don’t want to stress the importance of winning, feeling successful is important. Playing against their peers will allow them to experience success and prove that they are learning and growing. And they will beat Dad one day.

6) Give your kids a choice. I really like this concept. Kristin Mae wrote an article for Scary Mommy in which she described how her despondent 8-year-old asked her to take it easy on him in chess. She lovingly explained to him that if she isn’t playing to her full ability, he might feel like the game was handed to him. She then asked him how he imagines he would feel if he finally beat her while she was playing to her full ability - even if it took a year. Finally, she gave him a choice. She did not want to lie, which is the part I really like. Does he want her to take it easy, or to play full out? His choice.

Should You Let Your Child Win in Games of Skill? | Dad Suggests (2024)

FAQs

Should you let children win at games? ›

Things to keep in mind

Winning a game helps your child learn to cope when they lose, as it boosts their self-confidence. However, don't always let them win. Focus on the fun you have playing with your child, rather than the outcome of the game. Your reaction when you lose a game is an important example for your child.

Should you let your child win at chess? ›

That depends on what you and they want. If you want to make them feel good about themselves, let them win. If you want to help them improve, don't go easy on them. One idea I heard some time ago, though, that you might find interesting, is to flip the board around when you get into a strong position.

Are competitive games good or bad for children? ›

Competition Is Great For Building Self-Confidence

Knowing how to learn new talents and come back from adversity, to eventually triumph, are some of the best ways to build strong self-confidence. In addition, this opportunity is given to kids on a weekly basis when they play competitive sports.

Why does my child always have to win? ›

A child that has struggled with learning or picking up new skills equates their ability to win – with their sense of self and thus they are heavily invested in this. For a child with anxiety – winning represents control and losing means a loss of control and that is a scary thing.

When playing with children, let them win.? ›

Winning every time you play a game will not build a child's confidence, and it sets them up for unrealistic expectations. A child who can't lose a game gracefully will not be very popular with other children. If you want to let them win once in a while, that's fine, because losing every game is discouraging.

Should I let my 12 year old play video games? ›

How many hours of video games should a 12-year-old play? The American Academy of Pediatrics says that children over 6 should spend no more than 60 minutes gaming on school days and 2 hours on non-school days.

Are kids who play chess smarter? ›

Their results underline that those who played chess scored significantly higher on their meta-cognitive abilities and showed higher problem-solving skills in math.

Is chess good for ADHD kids? ›

Chess can also help with the symptoms or severity of several health conditions, including dementia, ADHD, and panic attacks. In addition, playing this challenging game can help you find a sense of flow or improve the effectiveness of your therapy sessions.

Is chess good for kids brains? ›

Chess can increase focus, strategic thinking and memory capacity, all of which are great skills for kids to develop - and which come in especially useful when it comes to success in math.

Why is my 6 year old so competitive? ›

Some kids learn competitive behavior from peers or parents who get what they want by dominating or putting others down. Regardless, an unhealthy need to win is often a pursuit of something else: attention, praise, worthiness, or a sense of control.

Do competitive sports actually benefit children? ›

Physical benefits

Sports have a lot to teach young people about their bodies. Competitive sports can help them reach their fitness goals while maintaining a healthy weight, which not only promotes better physical health but also offers a boost to mental health.

Why is my child not competitive? ›

If your kids appear to lack competitiveness, try to understand if they are struggling with these classic “mental game” challenges: Fear of failure that causes excess tension. Most kids want to perform well and may be too focused on not making mistakes.

What do you say when your child doesn't win? ›

Help your child put words to their feelings, while also showing empathy: “I remember feeling so frustrated when I missed a goal, and bit embarrassed too.” “Losing feels disappointing, but that feeling doesn't last forever.” “I know you did your best and you can feel proud of trying so hard.

How to instill competitiveness in a child? ›

6 Ways to Encourage Healthy Competition in Kids
  1. Focus on Personal Goals. ...
  2. Celebrate Improvements and Achievements. ...
  3. Reinforce Positive Messages about Competition. ...
  4. Take Away Punishment. ...
  5. Play Both Collaborative and Competitive Activities. ...
  6. Be a Good Role Model.

How do you motivate kids to win? ›

Praise effort and be supportive.

As long as they enjoy the activity and are putting forth their best effort, that's all you can ask for. Acknowledge their effort and accomplishments by rewarding them, taking them to get ice cream or to a movie. Avoid financial or material motivation.

Should you let your kids play sports? ›

Physical fitness: Consistent participation in sports can help youth become stronger and aerobically fit and less likely to develop chronic conditions like heart disease, cancer and diabetes. Cognitive fitness: Sports can also improve brain function, help kids focus and sharpen their problem-solving skills.

Is playing games good or bad for students? ›

It's true that some studies have shown certain video games can improve hand–eye coordination, problem-solving skills, and the mind's ability to process information. But too much video game playing may cause problems. It's hard to get enough active play and exercise if you're always inside playing video games.

Should students be allowed to play games? ›

Studies show that playing games in the classroom can increase overall motivation. Students become more motivated to learn, pay attention, and participate in-class activities. They can also be a great classroom management tool, helping to motivate a class.

At what age should I give my child video games? ›

Warren Buckleitner, editor of Children's Technology Review, says it can make sense to introduce a child to digital media at 2 1/2, although some kids aren't ready until they're older.

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