Competition – should you let your children win at games?

Anyone who knows me even fairly well will be snorting at the idea of me even asking this question. ‘Would Jo deliberately lose a game just so her children could win?’ Er, no.

I am very competitive, I always have been, and even though I know that there is probably a good argument for letting children win games from time to time, I just can’t physically do it. I justify it by saying that I believe it’s important for them not to have success handed to them on a plate, that letting them win doesn’t teach them anything, but basically I just can’t stand losing.

It’s not a malicious thing, it’s just something in me that takes over. I very rarely get properly angry, but I imagine it’s a similar sensation to the red mist descending. My normal, rational self gets shoved to one side and a fierce, competitive instinct takes over.

I was very excited then when we were asked to have a go at ‘Jungle Speed’ and were advised that it was a game ‘best played at speed’. Perfect. It’s basically like a fancy snap with a few extra twists, but instead of shouting, you grab a wooden totem pole. It works really well because you don’t have any arguments about who has shouted first and instead you get this ominous silence, where you stare at each other across the table menacingly. Well I do anyway.

To begin with I let myself down badly, getting over-excited and grabbing the pole prematurely (easily done), and having to pick up all the cards on the table, but I soon got back on track. It wasn’t long before I was on the brink of victory, my hand twitching, eyes fixed on the cards…

“I’m bored now,” said Belle, “let’s stop.”


“Yeah, we’ve been playing for ages, and I’m hungry,” she had a wicked twinkle in her eye, “let’s call it a draw.”

“A draw??!!” I was aghast. “It’s hardly a draw! Look at the cards, I’ve nearly won!”

“Yes Mummy,” said Belle calmly, raising her eyebrows as though talking to a toddler on the verge of a tantrum, “but it’s the taking part that counts isn’t it, not the winning.”


What do you reckon, am I too competitive? Should I try to control myself and let Belle win sometimes or am I really teaching her a valuable lesson? Leave me a comment to make me feel better about myself and I’ll pick one lucky, lucky person to receive their very own copy of Jungle Speed. I spoil you don’t I?



  1. Ruth Tesdale
    27 March, 2011 / 10:31 am

    This has recently been an issue with my grandson who is now 8. If we played a game he got very upset if he did not win and very excited if he did even if we clearly let him win so that he would not get upset. So we have made a concerted effort, that is his parents when they play with him and me and his granddad. While playing games we talked about how we were feeling as we were winning or loosing. We told him how we were a bit sad to loose but glad for the person who won but mostly had really enjoyed the time together. We did at first make it easier for him to win in ways he did not notice but gradually leveled the playing field so that we sometimes won. He did not handle that very well at first but he was encouraged to see how the winner felt happy and that he should not take that feeling away from them by getting upset. When he did win we talked about how he felt really good because he had won for real. Now playing games with him is much more fun and the only thing we do is where appropriate help him or do whatever is needed to take away any disadvantage his age or inexperience my give him so that he has a fair chance of winning.

    • 29 March, 2011 / 8:07 am

      That sounds like a very sensible approach, and I do agree that it’s really important to teach children to enjoy the game and to be a graceful loser. I am rubbish at setting an example for that bit!

  2. 27 March, 2011 / 10:34 am

    Very guilty of letting my children win games, although as they get older not quite so much. Having said that they have older they have got better so they win any how !!!

    • 29 March, 2011 / 8:08 am

      I don’t think you need feel guilty about it, I was the one feeling bad for being so competitive!

  3. Sarah
    27 March, 2011 / 10:41 am

    I don’t even let my (only just) 4 year old win at games unless he’s genuinely beat me!!

    He can’t win everything – not even at preschool or playing with his friends or his sister – and learning to lose gratiously is an important interaction skill if he wants to make and keep friends so it’s better if he learns it early.

    We’ve even taught him to do a rictus grin and congratulate the winner when he loses :)

    • 29 March, 2011 / 8:09 am

      That’s a good point – friends and siblings certainly aren’t going to let him win, so doing it yourself is surely just going to set him up with false expectations and make him feel worse when he does lose?

  4. 27 March, 2011 / 11:20 am

    If I wanted to I could beat my 7 year old at any number of games every time. I’m smarter (she’ll have me beat by the time she hits 16 I bet) I have more experience, and there isn’t a game out there she’s played that I haven’t. I have taught her to loose with grace, but occasionally I want her to experience the thrill of victory. I feel it motivates her to be more passionate, try harder, and think longer about her next move. Not only that but it helps her to see ME lose with grace, to still be smiling. It helps her to realize that no matter who wins we’re spending time together and that’s the biggest prize.

    • 29 March, 2011 / 8:11 am

      You see, this is the kind of lovely balance I feel I should be striving for! I do sometimes worry that Belle lacks motivation to try at games because she just thinks I’m going to win anyway, so maybe letting her win VERY OCCASIONALLY might not be a bad think. It might make it more sport for me in the long run…

  5. Elaine Livingstone
    27 March, 2011 / 2:33 pm

    depends on the age of the child, up to about 3 we would deliberatly loose some of the time, and the type of game your playing, some games especially on the throw of a dice you cant loose.
    I dont think you are doing them any favours letting them win, what happens when they paly with others at playgroup who also always win at home?
    its the same with a youngest child, always found he liked to loose less than the older ones ever did, but then they spoilt him in a lot of ways and at 25 can still be stroppy with some things.
    are you not teaching them to have a competitive streak if you have one, and is that not needed to get by in this world anyway?
    no imo allow them to win occasioanlly if you want but dont allow them to win all the time therby growing up to think the world owes them and only them anything they want handed to them on a plate

    • 29 March, 2011 / 8:12 am

      When Belle was really young and didn’t stand a chance I did opt for a lot of chance based, snakes and ladders type games. There’s no real thrill in winning for me, but at least she got to win sometimes!

  6. 27 March, 2011 / 2:55 pm

    I agree with Elaine. let ’em win sometimes, that way they learn to deal with both outcomes.

  7. 27 March, 2011 / 5:19 pm

    It’s not good to let them win, it would be making a fool out of them. They wouldn’t have it as easy anywhere else so why should you let them win? If you do let them win they’ll stop trying to improve and they’ll end up being sore-losers when they don’t win against other people…So your excuse makes sense to me!

  8. Cath
    27 March, 2011 / 5:39 pm

    I’m with you, I find it very difficult to let my children win at games as I’ve always been really competitive when it comes to board games. Sports I’m useless at so perhaps I became competitive because I was so used to losing at sports day and board games were something I could finally win at!

  9. Anthony Elvy
    27 March, 2011 / 6:40 pm

    Brilliant. The wife feels that I may be similarly minded and I have a habit of being super competitive and adopting an almost brutal ‘Must Win’ attitude. She will deliberately sabotage me during family games or give me ‘that’ look of warning when I scream at my 8 year old daughter ‘IN YOUR FACE!’
    I firmly agree that letting them win is wrong and losing builds character….or is it just knowing that I am now able to win making me unbearable?

    • 29 March, 2011 / 8:13 am

      Haha, you sound just like me. I beat Belle at Jenga at the weekend and shouted LOSER and did an L on my forehead. I’m so childish.

      • Anthony Elvy
        6 April, 2011 / 9:07 pm

        Thanks Jo :)
        Right, another game to kick butt with lol!

  10. Beth
    27 March, 2011 / 7:02 pm

    I’ve had to push myself to come across as competitive in games like this because I just don’t mind not winning. When it comes to sport though I’m very competitive (only in the sports I’m good at though, obviously) and now that my son is older it is getting harder and harder to beat him. He recognises this though as a true achievement because he when he beats me he is genuinely winning. We tend to get stupidly competitive about silly things like who heard a new song first and who is therefore the ‘coolest’.

    27 March, 2011 / 9:00 pm

    Success is learning from the misakes you’ve made and making life better, children shouldn’t be spoilt otherwise they won’t ever learn to deal with losing!

  12. katherine grieve
    28 March, 2011 / 6:33 am

    Younger children i would say let them win, but as they get older they need to learn that sometimes they dont win or get what they want. I think its ridiculous that most schools wont have competitive games on sportsday, children need to learn to compete, deal with losing and strive to win!

    • 29 March, 2011 / 8:05 am

      The sports day thing really annoys me too – there is so much competition IN the classrooms, sprots day always used to be the chance for the kids who maybe weren’t the best spellers but were great at running to shine, now it’s all team games and ‘taking part’. Rubbish. So dull to watch too.

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