Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner: Should you "let" your kids win?

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Miss M (3yo at the time) gave the spinner a big push and we watched it go round and round until it landed on the windstorm icon of her first board game, The Sneaky, Snacky Squirrel. This icon means the player loses all of the acorns they had gathered so far for their "tree." Miss M was not impressed.

"No," she said, folding her arms and jutting her bottom lip out.

I explained that this was how the game works. Sometimes she got to steal a piece from me, sometimes she got extra pieces, sometimes she lost all of her pieces, but she'd have a chance to earn them back.

"No," she repeated, more loudly and with a foot stomp this time.

Maybe I should have let it go, but I felt pretty strongly that "giving in" would set a precedent that rules were optional - whether in games or life. Plus, I'm a competitive person soooo...maybe it was a little about me not wanting to lose either? I gave her one more chance to put them in herself but when she refused I picked up her little tree and dropped the acorns into the box myself, "showing" her how to do it.

And she lost it. Screamed and stomped and pushed the game off the table. But I held firm and calmly explained that those were the rules and that was it.

She refused to play the game for SIX MONTHS. I felt like the biggest meanie in the world.

Then, one, day, she asked to play it and we did and when she got the storm icon I held my breath, but she smiled and dumped her acorns in the box and we carried on. Just like that.

Release of breath. I think I made the right choice with her.

Learning how to follow the rules, and win and lose gracefully, are traits my husband and I want to instil in our children. It's okay to WANT to win and to feel upset about losing, but the key is to learn how to manage those emotions so that they don't affect the fun of competition or hurt someone else's feelings.

Playing Dream Cakes on our Family Game Night.

Playing Dream Cakes on our Family Game Night.

I also think playing on an even level can make our children better competitors. They work harder and think more strategically about what they're doing and, when they do win, it's that much sweeter knowing they beat out mom or dad, fair and square. Mind you, we're not challenging them to a game of Chess or Poker, we play games designed for young kids which are mostly based on luck so we're all pretty even on that level.

On the flip side, I know some parents think it's better to let their kids win so they gain confidence and pride in themselves, as well as a better understanding of teamwork. As they get older or more competent in the game, they start decreasing their winnings slowly so that they begin to get a balance. I can see how that can work too, and I may have avoided a six month (child-imposed) ban on children's board games in our house if I had done that.

And, there are times I give up the win, such as in a race to "who can get ready for bed the fastest" or "who can get their shoes on the fastest" because, let's be honest, if my kid gets ready faster than me we BOTH really win (wink, wink); or if we are learning a new game and one of them is getting frustrated understanding it, a win or two can increase the enjoyment of the game until they can grasp the rules better.

Another option is to focus on cooperative games. We received the Busytown game from some friends for Miss M's birthday this year and it has quickly become a favourite with the whole family. We need to work together and help each other out to win the game. Sometimes we don't win, even when we are all working together, but it seems that it is less of an issue when that happens than if one wins. One of my blog readers suggested the Peaceable Kingdom games, such as Stone Soup based on the popular book, as great cooperative learning ones for little kids so I'm eager to try one of those out too.

Ultimately it's a personal choice in how you handle competition. It's a common theme through life though - from athletics, to academics, to career - and something worth thinking about what your philosophies on it are BEFORE you're faced with a pile of acorns, a storm cloud and a strong-willed three year old.


What do you think? Do you let your kids win or do you fight them to the finish?

Disclosure: All of the games mentioned in this post are ones that we truly love and I have not been compensated from their manufacturers in any way. However, if you click on the Amazon affiliate links, I may earn a small commission (that I use to maintain this website) for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial, and/or link to any products or services from this website.