Playing fair and square

We recently introduced our little one to 2 new games - Star Wars themed Battleship and Monopoly Empire - while we had family visiting for a few days. After her first loss was followed by tears, I was quick to remind myself (and others) that this was a very normal reaction from a preschooler. She's still learning to manage her emotions, especially "in the moment". It would be so easy to want to avoid these moments. It may even seem like a good idea to let kids win to help them build their confidence (for example). Recent research shows that this is not the case! 

Here's the Main Dish About the Research:

  • 4- and 5-year-olds played a rigged hiding game: some were always successful, some were not. The hiding game involved two adult "experimenters" who offered them clues. One experimenter gave accurate clues (the helpful adult); the other gave inaccurate ones (the unhelpful adult).
  • The children in the "always successful"/rigged version of the game did not prefer helpful adults over unhelpful ones. These children did not identify the helpful adult as being helpful. 
  • Children in the non-rigged version of the game showed a clear preference for the helpful adult. 
  • Children in the rigged version developed "illusory control" and "seemed to ignore otherwise relevant cues as to who would be a better source of information."

What does this mean for you? 

  • When children experience a great deal of success when playing games - perhaps because you are always letting them win - "they may become less aware of important information that they could use to learn about the world, because they see it as less relevant to their future success" says Carrie Palmquist, one of the researchers.
  • Here are some suggestions as to how to help your child experience losing:
    • Talking about winning and losing - When your child experiences losing, ask them how they feel and how this compares to when they win. Explain to them what leads to winning - is it chance, it is due to effort or a little bit of both? 
    • Act as their role model - when you lose, be sure to show them how to be a good sport about it and explain to them why you are not breaking down in tears. 
    • Be their coach - when they do experience losing, help them calm down and walk them through the experience. Invite them to take some deep breaths, acknowledge what they are feeling and the emotions that they are displaying. 

Once you get to the point where your child is losing gracefully, be sure to celebrate this big milestone!