Should we "let them win all the time"?

Parentree-editors 2009-01-12 09:51:38

As parents we often play games and sports with our kids. These require skills, effort or luck for winning. And when the little one runs into trouble, we often contrive to let them win. We let them score a goal easily or we let them roll the dice again. We do so because we believe that it will help boost their confidence and self-esteem.  But there are both positives and negatives to this approach.


  • The child feels good about scoring a goal or throwing a six on the dice
  • The child feels that her effort has been rewarded with a tangible result
  • The child is motivated and may want to do more of the activity (for example, a sport)


  • The child learns to focus on the results of the game (winning or the order of finishing or points) and not on the effort involved
  • The child does not learn that losing (not achieving a result) is a part of life
  • The child may think winning comes easily. They may become a bad loser who may whine every time they do not win or come in first.

Parents should keep both the positives and negatives in mind, and adopt a balanced approach that both motivates and also teaches a child about how to overcome a disappointing result. Here are some tips that can help.

Focus on the effort, not the results

Whatever the game you play, focus on the child's effort.  Here are some examples on how you can help.

If you are the goalie playing football with your child.

  • If your child scores a goal appreciate them by saying "Good shot. I saw you tried to kick the ball in the direction where I was not" instead of saying "Hey, you got a goal"
  • If you stop the ball before it goes into the goal, say "Good shot. You tried hard to get the ball past me. I had to dive and stop it." instead of saying "No goal this time"

If you are playing snakes and ladders with your child

  • If your child gets a six say "Wow, you were lucky there to get a six. Let's see what number luck brings me in my turn" instead of saying "Hey you managed to escape the snake"

In each of these examples, by taking the focus away from the result, you teach the child that the effort is what matters. In a sport like football, the child will start to learn that if they keep working on kicking the ball in the right direction, they will eventually do well. Similarly, in a game of luck like snakes and ladders, the child will learn that the fun is playing the game and see what luck brings.

Handle disappointment graciously

Children learn from us on how to handle disappointment. Not just during games we play, they observe us all the time. If they see us reacting emotionally when our expectations are not met, they think that it is OK to react that way.  Always, focus on reacting calmly to defeat and disappointment, especially in front of your children. If you feel like you need blow a valve, go somewhere else or wait till your children leave the scene. It does not have to be only in the extreme cases. Even in everyday life, you teach your children how to handle disappointment. For example, you maybe going out to eat as a family and everyone may have a different opinion. Even if you know you are going to lose, say that everyone should vote on what they want. If your children outvote you on pizza vs chinese, you can say "I am sure it will be fun to eat pizza too especially if all of you prefer pizza. I want to go out so we can have some fun as a family". In this situation you let them win but you taught them how to handle disappointment also.

One more example. If you are playing snakes and ladders with your child

  • If you slide down a snake make a sportive comment like "Awww, that's bad luck for me. But that was a fun ride down the snake. Now let me see if luck will send me counting up again" instead of "Why do I catch the snake every time?"

Do let them win

Teaching children to handle disappointment does not mean that we have to make them lose all the time. We also have to teach them the exhiliration of doing something well.

In a game of skill, parents will usually have more skill than a young child. So you do have to let the child feel they are being successful or they will shy away from that activity. If you are playing football, do let them score goals. Don't stop every one of them. But do stop some of them. Do let the child finish the snakes-and-ladders ahead of you. But don't let them do it all the time.

If a healthy balance is struck, the child will stay motivated and enthusiastic while also learning how to handle disappointment.

Tackle tantrums without giving in

This type of interaction may also result in tantrums when the child does not get what they want, even though it is happening infrequently.  You have to tackle this carefully but firmly so the child understands that throwing a tantrum is not going to let them get their way. You may find this article helpful to tackle tantrums - Screaming kids and temper tantrums


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