Should You Let Your Child Win?


I recently played Wii Sports with my 4-year-old daughter for the first time. Well, it was my first time; she had played several times before. I thought I might let her win a few games of tennis – after all, I know how to play tennis and she doesn’t. Boy, did I learn a thing or two. While playing Wii tennis doesn’t require the same skill and ability as running around the court, she already had developed the feel and strategy for the video game. This means she won as many games as I did in tennis – and in bowling, boxing and baseball.

My intentions to let her win were honorable. But were they the right thing to do? I sought out some other local moms to see if they agree.

Suzanne Murphy, mother of four kids, ages 5 months to 12 years, says she and her husband look for a healthy balance between letting their kids win and having them lose. The most important thing, Murphy says, is that they enjoy playing the game.

“Have we thrown a couple of games or races? Of course we have,” says Murphy. But the Charlotte mom says she wants to instill in her kids that being a good sport and playing the game is the important thing – winning is the icing on the cake.

Monica McAllister, a Charlotte mother of three, ages 3, 4 ½ and 7, takes a stronger stand. “I absolutely do not let them win all the time. The earlier they learn that you don’t win all the time, the better,” she says. “If I let them win, they get an inflated self-esteem.”

McAllister also doesn’t agree with not keeping score in games or always cheering on kids who may not be doing their best. “It’s not real life,” she says. “There’s always a winner and a loser. They need to develop their competitive nature … it helps them further on in life.”

Once kids get to school and start playing organized sports, teachers and coaches appreciate youngsters with a sense of sportsmanship.

Joe Murphy is the director at Sardis Swim and Racquet Club in south Charlotte. “As an instructor of young children, I want parents to teach their kids to win and lose gracefully,” says Murphy. “They should be just going out and having a good time, learning something and getting involved. I want the kids to share and be happy for someone else when they win.”

The idea of winning and losing gracefully is echoed by Dr. Denise Hanson, a clinical neuropsychologist at Presbyterian Rehabilitation Center Charlotte.

“I am a big believer in looking at the long-term goals you have for your children. What would you like your children to be like when they’re 25? What characteristics and traits do you want them to have? Yes, it’s wonderful to see them jump for joy when they win, but what are you teaching them when you let them win?”

Instead of letting your young children win, Hanson suggests you:

Select games that are age and ability appropriate. Kids as young as 2 have a sense of winning and losing.

Don’t stage a win. Create opportunities where they can win so they have that sense of accomplishment. It’s OK to simplify the rules for a small child, but do it before the game starts.

Teach them strategy and praise their efforts. Point out ways they can win. Say things like: “That was a great strategy. You should show your brother how to do that.”

Teach them to be compassionate for others’ accomplishments. If you win while playing your youngster, you could say: “I want a big hug from you. I’m not usually very good at this game, so a hug would show you’re happy for me.”

Focus on activities that develop competency rather than competitiveness. Try jumping on a trampoline or riding a bike. These teach skills and confidence.

Play a variety of games. Your child may not be good at soccer, but may be a whiz at chess. When he is playing with siblings or friends his own age, a variety of games ensures one person isn’t always winning or always losing.

The line Hanson repeats to parents: “You want them to learn to win and lose with grace and integrity.” The key, she says, is to teach them this at home where we love them unconditionally, so when they are out in the real world with people who won’t let them win, they’ll know what to do.

Luckily, my daughter is just as happy when I win a game as when she does – most of the time. She just wants to play the game! Next up: Wii golf.