For many parents, letting their kids win — at board games or in other friendly competitions — is a natural instinct. But in a new Good Housekeeping essay, writer Kara Wahlgren makes the case that, for kids, losing has its advantages too.
Wahlgren, who admits to having a “competitive streak,” says she’s not the type to let her kids win. “In the era of participation trophies, being competitive gets a bad rap, so I should clarify that I’m not a stage mom, I’m not a sore loser, and you won’t find me screaming on the sidelines at soccer games. But I don’t see anything wrong with winning a round of Candyland now and then. Healthy competition is a good thing, even if it means my kids don’t win every single game,” she writes. “The thing is, losing gracefully takes practice. If my kids lose the occasional low-stakes board game at home, we can talk about good sportsmanship, and I can set an example by taking it in stride when they win.”
It also makes the inevitable truth, that her kids won’t always succeed, easier to bear. “Losing doesn’t chip away at self-esteem, it chips away at fear of failure. We fear what we don’t know, so I want my kids to get acquainted with losing,” Wahlgren writes. “Because if they’re not afraid to lose, then hopefully they won’t be afraid to try out for the lacrosse team, or audition for the school play, or learn a new instrument or a new language or a new parkour trick.”
Plus, Wahlgren writes, winning isn’t that exciting if it’s all you know. “The agony of defeat makes the thrill of victory sweeter — kind of like jumping into cold water before you get into a hot tub. I want my kids to see a loss as a challenge, not an excuse to give up,” she writes. “And when they do a victory dance, I want them to know they earned it.”
Amy Morin, a psychotherapist and the author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do, says there is merit in Wahlgren’s approach. “It’s not a good idea to always let kids win simply to avoid a meltdown or a temper tantrum. Instead, parents should allow kids to lose sometimes and turn their disappointment into a teachable moment,” she tells Yahoo Parenting. “If you let your child beat you at checkers every time, he may be confused when he can’t beat his same-age friend.”
Still, it’s OK to take a backseat and let your kids taste victory once in a while. How to win gracefully is an important lesson too, Morin says. “That means not gloating, bragging, or putting down their opponent,” she says. “There’s certainly nothing wrong with letting kids win sometimes. In fact, playing for fun and not taking things too seriously can teach kids that everything doesn’t have to be about winning.”
Both lessons — how to win and how to lose — are really about how to deal with emotions, Morin says. “The excitement over winning shouldn’t lead to a celebration that could cause the loser to feel bad, and the disappointment over losing shouldn’t lead to a temper tantrum,” she explains.
Despite Wahlgren’s competitive nature, the writer says that there’s no better feeling than losing to kids when the loss is deserved. “As much as I love winning,” she writes, “I have to say that there’s something awesome about losing, fair and square, to my own kid.”