Should You Let Your Child Win When You Play With Them?

Whether you let your child win or not, the most important thing is that you know how to accompany and guide them during the experience.
Should You Let Your Child Win When You Play With Them?
Elena Sanz Martín

Written and verified by the psychologist Elena Sanz Martín.

Last update: 15 February, 2023

Games are the natural habitat of children; it’s their natural environment. Through play, they learn about the world and interact with other people in their environment. It’s also one of their greatest means of expression. For this reason, when parents play with their children, they’re giving them valuable time for their growth as a person. However, on more than one occasion, you may have asked yourself if you should let your child win when you play with them.

It’s natural that, at times, you feel the urge to favor or give an advantage to your child, as you perceive that their abilities aren’t enough to win naturally. However, it’s also possible that you feel that this isn’t quite right, as you don’t want to get them used to fictitious and unfair victories. So, what should you do?

The fact of the matter is that there’s no single answer for all cases, as the way to proceed will depend on several variables. For this reason, below we’ll offer you relevant information so that you can decide freely.

Should you let your child win?

First of all, let’s consider that for children, playing isn’t only a form of entertainment or a fun activity. It’s also a series of small challenges and tests. When a child wins a game and achieves success, they feel capable and valid. This contributes to developing a positive self-image and motivates them to accept challenges and engage in unfamiliar tasks.

However, it’s difficult for a child to win naturally when playing with an adult, especially on the first few occasions. So, no matter whether it’s basketball, a board game, or completing a word search, it’ll usually be the older child who wins. This is because the younger child doesn’t have the same skills, maturity, or experience.

However, if the child consistently loses, they may become extremely discouraged. And this can lead them to want to give up the game, not try anymore, and develop the notion that they’re incapable when it comes to these (and other) tasks. Because of this, it’s not a bad thing to offer a certain advantage at times, as this will allow them to put their skills to work without that great imbalance.

A mother and daughter playing jenga just as the tower falls over.
Play performance plays an important role in a child’s self-esteem. So, sometimes it’s okay to give them certain advantages, although letting him win every time isn’t the right thing to do either.

Lessons for the real world

Despite the above, it’s not wise to let your child win as a matter of course. While victories help build self-esteem, it’s important that they’re real successes. For example, you can repeatedly remind your child that they’re very brave, but nothing will reinforce that self-concept as much as the moment when they actually face a fear and overcome it. Likewise, they won’t feel smart, skilled, or competent if they’ve won just because you let them.

In fact, the child may notice that they’re being allowed to win and this can be counterproductive. As a result, they’ll understand that if their parents overprotect them, it’s because they don’t consider them capable of winning on their own merits either.

Persevering is more important than the result

On the other hand, one of the most important lessons learned from play is the ability to tolerate frustration. In these activities, as in life, not everything always goes as we wish.

For younger children, this skill is difficult to manage, and probably, when they lose, they may have a tantrum, get angry, or cry. However, these moments are a great opportunity to instill a proper mindset; that is, teach them how to deal with the situation and provide them with tools that they can use in other real-life occasions.

Children playing a game with their parents.
Children must understand that sometimes they’ll lose and it’s important to learn to accept it. Also, they need to know that defeat allows them to analyze their mistakes in order to improve in the future and be able to persevere.

How to know when to let your child win?

As you can see, both options have their pros and cons. Therefore, it’s a matter of finding a balance and, especially, of knowing how to analyze what your child needs. Not all cases are the same. For example, there are some children who, because of their personality, may need a small dose of security at certain times. On the contrary, there are others who need to learn about frustration.

In each situation, the best way to proceed will be different. That’s why it’s crucial that parents know their children well and know how to adapt parenting to their temperament, emotions, and needs. In any case, never go overboard with your response. Try to find a balance so that they can experiment with their skills and gain confidence in them, but at the same time understand that all play involves losing at times.

The most important thing is to accompany and guide your child

The most important thing when playing with your child is that you know how to accompany and guide them through the experience. Instead of focusing on whether they win or lose, help them analyze their strategy, plan their next steps, and know what skills to use in each moment. Likewise, encourage them to analyze their possible mistakes and design a new plan to do better on the next try.

These steps will help develop a growth mindset in your child, which has been shown to increase motivation, independence, and resilience and bring us closer to success. It’s these lessons that will be of real value to them.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Dweck, C. (2017). Mindset: La actitud del éxito. Editorial Sirio SA.
  • García A. (2016) ¡No me sale!… ¡Todavía! Mentalidad de cambio vs mentalidad fija. El poder de creer que podemos mejorar.  En: ¿Cómo podemos transformar nuestras escuelas? Estrategias para fomentar la autorregulación en la escuela primaria, 55-60.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.