Do you want to answer the unanswered questions?
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in 24-36 Month Babies by
We've started playing some simple games with my 2-year-old son, including a simple age-appropriate matching game.

He enjoys playing, but seems (to me, at least) more focused on playing over winning. I think that's perfect.

However, I noticed last night that he always wins.

It turns out that my wife has literally been stacking the deck in his favor. When the game gets towards the end, she starts looking at the tiles, and checking to see if the next one dealt (she's the dealer) would be the winning card. If it would end the game with either her or I winning, she sets it aside and picks the next one. In at least one game she apparently deliberately put all of the tiles that matched her card at the very bottom so they wouldn't get drawn.

When I asked her about it, she said she thought he should win, and that winning would be more fun for him.

Setting aside the implications of lessons about cheating (let's assume that it was subtle enough, and that my son was distracted enough, that he had no clue that the deck was being manipulated), is there any problem with ensuring that he wins each time?

My concern, which I expressed to my wife, is that I want him to enjoy playing games for the sake of playing, and not for the sake of winning. I don't want him to expect to win each time, and then become disappointed when he doesn't. Is this a legitimate concern at his age, or is he simply too young to focus on the competitive side of games, and letting him win is nothing more than a harmless incentive to enjoy playing at this age?

If it isn't a problem at this age, when does it become a problem?

3 Answers

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Just anecdata: we did this with our daughter (now 4.5), mostly because playing games about math was fun for all. We thought it would make it more fun for her, and get her more involved, if she won. Now we're reaping the whirlwind; she pouts and refuses to play games when she loses. So now we're having to undo the damage we did, and teach her that playing is important, not winning.

When our son is older (he's just now pushing 2), I'll hopefully know if it WAS the 'let her always win' strategy that backfired on us, or if it's just because she is who she is. Then again, I may not ever know. But my gut tells me that letting her win all the time set an expectation that she's SUPPOSED to win, and that if she doesn't win something went wrong and we, as the parent, have to fix it.
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This raises the deeper question of: to what extent to you fabricate a phony reality for small children and until what age?

If there isn't a need to protect the child from anything in the given situation, it's probably better to stick to reality.

That a game can be lost is not some "harsh dose of reality" that must be revealed gradually, because the child's "little mind" cannot deal with it "all at once".

Games in fact are the gentle way for revealing the reality that important things in life don't always work out.

If the game is rigged, part of the purpose of the game is lost.
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I don't advocate just letting your child win. However, it is entirely appropriate to adjust your level of play according to the age and abilities of the child. When playing sports against my kids, I don't let them win, but I don't go all out against them like I would against other adults my age as that wouldn't really be fun for either of us.
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