I come from a competitive family — a game of charades once almost ended with a punch-up. And that was between the members of the family who should definitely know better.
In truth it’s all good fun and Trival Pursuit is definitely way more interesting when winning is a matter of life and death. But when it comes to playing games with the younger generation should we be curbing that competitive instinct and — heaven forbid — let them win?
You may be surprised but the answer is no. Or, at least, not all the time.
That’s right — you may think you’re doing the right thing by letting your little one hammer you at Monopoly or MarioKart but experts say it’s actually more beneficial to let them experience losing.
“Everyone remembers the kid in the playground who kicked the ball into the woods when he lost the game,” Matthew Biel, a paediatric 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.”
At around the age of 5 or 6 children become interested in competitive games because they are typically old enough to understand rules, judge odds and recognise fair play.
“You have to recognise 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,” said Biel. “It’s why it’s so much fun to play with them.”
I experienced this first-hand myself with my 5-year-old daughter recently. We were playing a simple card game and I tried to fix it so she won. She clocked me right away and was having none of it. If anything, losing the game made her want to play more and she became more determined than ever to figure it out. Until she won, fair and square, and she was delighted.
By throwing a game to a child we run the risk of them sensing that we’re not fully committed to the process, which they may interpret as a lack of faith in their ability.
The best option seems to be simply to play the game without any agenda. Don’t go out of your way to let your young opponent win or lose. If they win congratulate them but don’t act disappointed — keep the emphasis on how much fun it was to play, regardless of the outcome. This helps them learn how to handle losing. If they lose set the example of how to be a graceful winner. A high-five or a handshake is a great way to start instilling the habits of a good sportsman.
The thing about coming from a competitive family is that, we’re all so keen to win, our positions on the leaderboard are constantly changing. Which means we’ve had to get used to losing, whether we liked it or not. And what I’ve learned is that losing doesn’t destroy self-esteem; it helps to overcome a fear of failure. By becoming familiar with losing, we grow less afraid of it and this carries over into other parts of our lives that require courage and faith in our abilities.