Should you let your kids win at board games? Not really — but you shouldn’t totally clobber them either, experts say.
For kids older than 4, losing can teach a valuable lesson about how to recover from failure.
“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, told the Wall Street Journal. “That kid wasn’t given the skills to recover from failure. You don’t want to be that kid.”
Starting around 5 or 6, children become interested in competitive games because they gain the cognition to know rules, gauge odds and judge fair play. In essence, they are establishing their standing in the world.
“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,” Biel said. “It’s why it’s so much fun to play with them.”
Throwing a game to a child is a bad idea because school-age children can sense when you’re not trying and may view it as a loss of faith in them.
But beating them to a pulp doesn’t teach them either, because that could teach what psychologists term learned helplessness — the sense that success is impossible no matter the odds.
In the end, experts suggest parents do what they always do: Fudge it a little.
Give kudos when children show good sportsmanship and make sharp tactical calls.
But don’t be afraid to stop the game when competition gets too heated and players need to be asked to display characteristics to help them continue — resilience, patience, flexibility and gratitude.
“Basically, you need to have a plan,” said Kenneth Barish, a clinical professor who specializes in child psychology at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York.
“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.’”