It IS whether you win or lose
There are a few questions that parents often ask. One is, "Should I let my child win when we play games together?" The answer really depends on what you want your child to learn from gameplay, but it's usually a "no." This response is based on my own experience as a therapist and as a parent - I haven't looked for any research on the topic, but I feel strongly that it's important for kids to learn how to be good losers as well as good winners. Every child will lose a game at some point, and when parents play with their kids, there is an opportunity to help them cope with disappointment that they'll experience on the soccer field, at the rink, or on the basketball court.
My own kids used to cheat sometimes because winning was so important to them. When I play, we talk about the importance of following the rules and of fairness. When my children were younger, we typically played games that were based on luck, like chutes and ladders. Sometimes I would win, often one of the kids would. If they lost, they used to get upset - pouting and sometimes, "I don't want to play anymore," were common. This was when I realized the importance of helping my kids learn to cope with losing. I started talking to them during the game about how much fun it was, and I'd give them a pat on the back if their turn went well. When I lost, I'd say to my sons, "I feel kind of bad that I didn't win this time. Can you guys help me to feel better?" They'd give me a hug, or encouragement, or tell me how much fun the game was, or say that I might win next time. Soon, they were saying the same things to one another, and it wasn't long before it became clear that no one was becoming devastated by losing. They still wanted to win, but they were willing to keep playing if they didn't.
I feel the same way about organized sports. Keeping score isn't the most important thing, but it's not damaging for kids to play competitively. I don't think that parents should become too competitive, and it's important for parents to remark on the things their kids did well during the game. It's sometimes helpful to remind kids of the important parts of the game besides scoring goals. Cheering for their team-mates and having fun are important. Winning is great, but it's not the only great thing about baseball, basketball, soccer or hockey!
Do you let your kids win every time? Do you agree that playing competivite sports are an important part of a child's development?
Note: Posts on Family Anatomy are for information only. If you need to talk to someone about family or mental health issues, you can get a referral from your family doctor.