Should I let my kid win at board games? Yes, and here’s why.

If you’re reading one post on this site, this is it. This is the foundation of my philosophy of board gaming with kids: It’s good for them to win. Until he was about seven, my son “won” most of the games he ever played with me. And yet I never “let” him win (well, almost never).

It’s okay for kids to win when you play board games. Before you post a comment about what’s wrong with entitled kids today, read this to decide whether this makes sense for you.

First, what do I mean when I say he “won”?

We still play by the rules.

It’s important to know how a game works. Some games have just a few rules, and others have multi-page rulebooks. They’re the structure that makes the game not turn into a free-for-all. We don’t make up new rules in the middle of a game, or change a rule at a convenient time. This still sometimes leads to tears or frustration, but not as often as you might think, because . . .

We adjust at the beginning or the end of the game.

This can be as simple as adding 5, 50, or 500 points to his score at the end of the game. If you know in advance what the point difference is likely to be, you can just start the game by saying you’ll add some number of points to their score at the end. (This also works well with bowling.)

Another method is to choose teams. “You were on daddy’s team all along? Look! You have so many more points than me combined!” Teaming up can be a good strategy for siblings. Or you can adjust at the start by adding an advantage for them or a disadvantage for you, such as resources or abilities. See this post for examples.

What does winning board games have to do with attachment parenting?

It’s about having a safe space in the world.

I once won a “crunchy momma” award from my MOMs Club, mostly because I liked my Ergo more than the stroller and was too lazy to do traditional baby food. I read all kinds of mommy discussion boards and parenting books, several of which were about attachment parenting. A lot of people hear “attachment parenting” and think that it means the kid is literally attached to you. In my experience, it’s the exact opposite. It’s about raising confident kids who are secure in their attachment to their caregivers, giving them the freedom to explore and the safety of knowing you’ve got their back. So how does that relate to winning at board games?

If you’ve spent any time in preschool or elementary school lately, you may have noticed that there are a ton of rules. Time for free play and exploration is shorter than ever before. My son gets 30 minutes of recess once per day. (Back in the ‘80s, we had 3 recesses per day.) By the evening, he can be pretty wound up, having kept it together successfully all day at school. (It’s not my imagination; it’s called “after school restraint collapse.”) Home is the place where he can lose it, and he knows everything will still be okay. Playing a game together without the pressure of winning or losing makes for a much more pleasant evening than cutthroat competition.

You can model gracious losing behavior.

If they’re winning, that probably means you’re losing, which is a great opportunity to demonstrate how to lose with style and grace. You can talk about where your strategy went wrong. You can compliment their strategy. You can downplay the importance of winning and losing and focus on the fun you had together. You could even throw a pretend over-the-top tantrum to show them how silly it looks if they do it.

They won’t need to win every game forever.

What happens, you might wonder, when they go into the real world, and no one is going to give them extra points? Will their fragile egos crumble into dust? Will they not be able to make any friends? Answers: It will be fine, no, and no. Just like kids can tell the difference between home and school, they can tell the difference between parents and friends. We remind him that games need to be balanced when he plays with other people, and we remind him that he might lose. And sometimes he does lose. And it’s okay. It’s just a game. Let’s play another one!

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