Beating Your Kids At Board Games Teaches Them That Winning Isn’t Everything
How many games of Candy Land have you played with your kid? Whatever your answer, I guarantee I’ve got you beat. I’ve played so many games of Candy Land—the Disney Princess Edition, to be exact—with my 3-year-old daughter that I practically have the board memorized. I’ve experienced all the highs and lows of a Candy Land match-up. Selecting a single yellow card when I really need a double orange. Advancing my Snow White figurine along the path at breakneck speed, only to pick the damn Cinderella carriage card and have to go back to the beginning of the board. But the sweet, sweet taste of victory when I’m the first one to reach the Candy Land princess ball makes up for every instance of defeat (and for the pain and suffering of having to play Candy Land over and over again in the first place). Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I’m some sadistic asshole who enjoys seeing my kid lose. It’s just that I don’t believe in letting kids win just because they’re kids.
When I was little, I used to spend a week each summer visiting my aunt in Long Island. She and I are super close and I have a lot of fond memories of our time together, but what I remember more than anything is her kicking my ass at Connect Four—among other games—on a regular basis. I’ll never forget the first time it happened. I was probably 6 or 7 years old. When the game was over, I was flat-out appalled that she didn’t let me win. My parents let me win at stuff all the time! After all, isn’t that what grown-ups were supposed to do? When I demanded an explanation, her response was: “Why should I let you win? It wouldn’t be fair to either of us. Besides, how can you appreciate winning if you never lose?”
As parents, our instinct compels us to do anything we can to shield our children from negative experiences. In addition to loving them, keeping them safe, and meeting their basic needs, we are driven to make them happy. When our kids suffer, we suffer. When my daughter is hurt or upset about something, I often wish I could trade places with her so she wouldn’t have to feel the pain. I’m sure most parents could relate to this. But that’s just not the way life is. Knees get scraped. Heads get bumped. People can be cruel. Sometimes you get your ass handed to you in a game of Connect Four. But each loss, each disappointment, is an opportunity for personal growth. Painful as it can be, coping with adversity is an important part of life, even if it comes in the form of losing a board game at the age of three. These are all necessary loses. There are no peaks without valleys.
I think these days, we as parents—and trust me, I include myself in this—often go way overboard in trying to protect our children. We email their teachers (or their college professors!) demanding to know why they got a ‘B+’ instead of an ‘A’. We put them in soccer leagues where everyone gets a trophy, even the losers. Or we rig whatever game we’re playing with them so they always win. Doing these things may make kids happy in the moment, but I think it can seriously screw them up later in life. It hinders their emotional development. Children who are never allowed to experience failure grow into entitled adults who are completely ill-equipped to deal with life on life’s terms. I believe the most powerful and authentic form of self-esteem is derived from achieving success on one’s own; and failure is often the driving force that makes success possible. We have to let our kids go through this stuff. I’m not talking about being a hard-ass for the sake of it, and surely children always benefit from our support and encouragement. I just think overdoing it to the point of enabling them is a big mistake.
I’ve never let my daughter win a game of Candy Land just for the sake of it. (Well…except for the one time I stealthily rearranged the stack of cards so she would pick the winning one because we were running late to get out the door and I was desperate for the game to be over.) But what I find interesting is that when I win, she typically just rolls with it. She gets frustrated and disappointed, sure, but she rebounds quickly and always wants to give it another shot so she can try to win the next round. Maybe she’s just cool like that, but I’d like to believe it has something to do with the fact that she understands losing is just part of the game. When she does win, she feels good knowing it was the result of her own efforts (at least until the day she realizes Candy Land requires no strategy whatsoever). So take it from me—there’s nothing to feel guilty about if you don’t let your kid win. Just try to refrain from doing a victory dance.