Stop Letting Your Kid Win at Board Games

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'Tis the season for the board game, but psychologists urge you not to throw the game just to make your kid feel good. That can teach the wrong lesson.

During the holidays, many families dust off their board games and pull up to the kitchen table for some good-spirited competition. But the fun and games can rapidly collapse into tears and frustration if your child is on the losing end when the last die is rolled.

But that doesn’t mean you should let them win. Psychologists say it’s a bad idea to intentionally throw a game so a child (older than 4) can win, the The Wall Street Journal reported.

Experts say allowing your child to lose at board games can teach a valuable lesson on how to recover from failure. It also helps them build character and good sportsmanship.

“Everyone remembers the kid in the playground who kicked the ball into the woods when he lost the game,” Matthew Biel, a pediatric psychiatrist at Georgetown University Medical Center, explained to The Journal. “That kid wasn’t given the skills to recover from failure. You don’t want to be that kid.”

About the time children start kindergarten – age 5 or 6 – they become more interested in competitive games. Says the WSJ:

For the first time they begin measuring themselves against others to establish their standing in the world. If it seems like your 7-year-old is having an existential crisis after losing a game of Uno, he or she actually is.

“You have to recognize the stakes are really high for kids. That doesn’t mean they are immature. They are playing the game with the appropriate level of gravity,” says Dr. Biel. “It’s why it’s so much fun to play with them.”

Although it’s generally a bad idea to intentionally lose a game so your child can win, it’s also not a good idea for you to crush them: You don’t want to leave them with the impression that it’s impossible for them to win.

My husband and I have avoided playing games with our 5-year-old daughter for the past few months. We were sick of her tears and frustration if she didn’t win. But we acquiesced to her pleas and played Go Fish and Old Maid over the weekend. Although she lost both games, she didn’t throw a fit.

She said she had fun and tried her best and that was all that matters. Although I’d like to think that our lessons about how to win gracefully and lose gracefully are finally sinking in, it’s more likely that she has a better concept of fairness.

Dr. Michele Borba, author of “The Big Book of Parenting Solutions,” told NY Metro Parents that teaching children, starting in kindergarten,  how to win and lose is important because they’re getting more competitive.

Don’t go out of your way to let them win or lose. If they win, teach them grace by laughing it off and telling them how much fun it was to play. If they lose, teach them how to be a graceful winner.

“Basically, you need to have a plan,” said Kenneth Barish, a clinical professor of psychology at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York, specializing in child psychology, in an interview with the WSJ. “Before the game starts, lay it out. ‘Listen we are playing Monopoly. It’s a tough game. Business is tough like life. You might win. You might lose. But you can’t cry if you lose.’ ”

If my husband and I have played several games in a row with my daughter and she hasn’t won any of them, we typically fudge a few things so she can celebrate a victory. After all, it’s supposed to be fun.

What are you favorite family-friendly board games? Do you throw games so your kids can win? Share your comments below or on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

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