Do You Let Your Kids Win?

I never really played any games with either of my parents. I suppose we just weren’t that kind of family. I did play a lot of video games with my brother though; he’s five years my senior. Because of this age gap, he was understandably a lot better at practically everything we played, especially when I was younger. He’d demolish me in Madden. He’d destroy me in Street Fighter. I never really stood much of a chance.

As I got older, the age gap started to mean less and less. I’d get more competitive and I’d actually win a few games here and there. If my brother and I were to pick up a controller today, I’m reasonably confident that I’d beat him in almost anything. He doesn’t really play anything anymore and while I don’t play nearly as much as before, I still get in a button mashing session when I can.

And he’s getting old. His dexterity and reflexes aren’t what they used to be.

Crushing Defeats and Profound Victories

When we were kids, my brother never let me win. He never took it easy on me, aside from when he’d taunt me by “playing with his food” in games like Street Fighter. So when I did finally manage to scrape out a victory, it was a little more meaningful. I had conquered my demon, if only temporarily. I don’t have any younger siblings, so I never really experienced the flip-side of this scenario.

Now that I’m a dad, even though my daughter isn’t even two years old yet, I’m starting to wonder whether or not I will let her win. When she first picks up a chess piece and slides that rook into place, do I purposely make a dumb move so she can capture my bishop? When she starts mashing on the arcade stick, do I skip the max damage combo?

The Ross Geller School of Parenting

This question came up on the Nerdist podcast when Chris Hardwick had David Schwimmer on as the guest. Best remembered for playing Ross Geller on the 90s sitcom Friends, Schwimmer says that his dad never took it easy on him for tennis, chess or anything else. He just kept losing. When he did finally manage to beat his father at tennis, it really meant something. It was profound.

For the child, years and years of nothing but losing can be awfully disheartening. It’s so deflating. It can push the kid to the point where he just doesn’t want to play anymore, because it’s no longer fun. Losing is never fun. And as the clearly “superior” player (at least until the young one catches up), you can feel like you’re dishing out some rather cruel punishment as your 7-year-old eats another one of your cross-court smashes.

Some people might say that if you let your kids win, you’re encouraging them to keep playing. Winning can boost their confidence. However, it can also give them a false sense of confidence. When they are removed from the bubble of your halfhearted play, they’ll be even more devastated when they inevitably lose to a more talented peer.

There Are No Winners

Many have said that you should play to win or don’t play at all. Parenting and child psychology experts might disagree, choosing instead to promote a greater sense of inclusiveness. Kids should simply enjoy the game for its own sake. “Participation” awards and the “everyone’s a winner” mentality grew from this philosophy. But I’m not sure if that’s actually any better.

The world is a competitive place. Are you doing your children a disservice by letting them win? Or are you simply teaching them to be happier and more sociable human beings? Do you let your kids win at Monopoly? Why or why not?