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A Good Sport

August 01, 2013

Do you let your four-year-old always win at CandyLand, or your eight-year-old at Monopoly? Do you fake fatigue at tennis so your twelve-year-old comes out ahead? Many well-intentioned parents purposely dumb down their game in the belief that it will be more fun for the youngsters if they come out the winner — and maybe, through all those victories, enjoy a boost to their self-esteem.

It’s a short-sighted strategy.

Valuable lessons can be learned from failure, especially at the loving hands of Mom or Dad:

  • Children can learn to lose with grace— with a sense of emotional balance and proportion, knowing it’s not the end of the world. When parents win, what they say to a son or daughter can help the kids learn to recognize the upside despite a disappointing outcome. “You played quite well.” “I was impressed with your effort.” “You kept me on my toes …” “You’ve made a lot of progress since the last time …” “You were a tough competitor for me …”
  • Children can learn to win with humility— to accept victory without flaunting one’s good luck or skill, without gloating at or demeaning the loser. This is best taught by example, by a parent who congratulates the losing son or daughter on a game well-played, and who takes only quiet satisfaction in the victory.
  • Children can learn to elevate fun and personal challenge over the mere fact of winning. In a culture too-often focused on high achievement, it’s no surprise that many kids believe that winning is everything. When parents who win show more interest in the pleasure they themselves derived from the activity, rather than the victory per se, they teach their kids to value experience over outcome, the journey and not just the destination.