I love my children very much, but I sometimes I have to teach them a lesson. I'm afraid if I always allow them to win them, they'll turn out to be spoiled and rotten and have a sense of entitlement when they grow up. But if I beat them too often, I'm afraid they'll have low self-esteem and not very much self-confidence. Ultimately, I feel that beating them is very important and that it teaches character.

In a similar question, this answer suggests:

If you're playing a game where you win more than 50% of the time, it's not actually a fair game. You have every advantage, because he's FOUR. Effectively, you should be handicapping yourself down to the level where you're struggling to win.

While I like the idea of handicapping myself, I'm still concerned about the win/loss ratio. If I start losing too much, they will miss out on learning about good sportsmanship and may fall victim to the Dunning-Kruger effect later in life. If I win too much, they won't want to play anymore.

What is a good ratio for winning and losing games? Or am I thinking about all of this the wrong way?

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    I totally misunderstood the intent of your question from the title! You might want to revise your question because I thought you were asking how often to use physical punishment! You are in fact asking instead how often you should let your child win when playing games. Hopefully, like me, others will read further than your title, but in case they don't, you might get better results if you rephrase.
    – Jax
    Commented Apr 1, 2014 at 21:58
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    I was seriously wondering if it was an April Fool's post.
    – user7185
    Commented Apr 2, 2014 at 0:24
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    Related: parenting.stackexchange.com/q/7393/644 Commented Apr 2, 2014 at 1:38
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    @Imi This was an April Fool's post. Looks like it didn't do too well. I'll try harder next year.
    – jliv902
    Commented Apr 2, 2014 at 15:50
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    lol, I'm amazed that this question (given the old title) didn't make it into the Hot Network Questions. Was the title edited too quickly? Anyway, this is legitimately a good question.
    – Doc
    Commented Apr 4, 2014 at 18:05

4 Answers 4


I believe this question, the related question, and all the answers I have read are missing the point a game ought to have. Where the game is not almost exclusively chance (those that are, are irrelevant to the question at hand), the point really is not if one wins or loses -- the point is to learn strategies. The type of strategy is dependent upon the nature of the game, of course.

My daughter is 14 now. I have not once in her entire life let her win a single game. I have, however, tried to educate her about the nature of performing better at each particular game. Sometimes it was in the form of questions (e.g. "Oh, why did you do that?" ... "Hmm... I can see why that seems good, but did you notice...?") while other times it was in the form of laying my cards on the table (e.g. "So, I am thinking that if I do ... then it'll be harder for anyone [importantly, not naming her] to do ... and will help me.) My personal preference is to make any educational component indirect or else the game will seem less game like and more like a classroom, defeating the "point from her perspective."

In addition to the other answers which show a balance in being a good winner and a good non-winner, this method serves to educate.

To my supreme delight, her creative mind has very often come up with quite ingenious alternative methods... some of which do very well and others demonstrate why they are not the best choice. The consequence of such thinking is that "the box" is not her confinement -- her imagination is.

Consider also, as appropriate, online games where you and your child can form a team against AI opponents. This allows you to brainstorm strategies and see how well they perform without competition between you and your child. My daughter prefers this over her-vs-I at this time in life.

Win or lose, did we learn anything useful? Is that not what the conclusion to any game of strategy should be... a question about personal growth?

Side Note: Since the game is about learning, imo, I have let her change a move after chatting with her about it... enforcing the game rules is not the point. If she understands the consequences and chooses an alternative, why not let her make a change?

Final Side Note: Yes, she has won games with me on her own merit and was elated, chatting about it for days -- she trusted that I didn't let her win, but that she earned it, and that made the "win" all that much better. Not only was she elated, but I was proud to see her do so well!

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    This answer feels like it addresses the most important issues best, and is how I tend to handle things (including the 'show your cards', which is essentially a type of handicap as well as a way to teach).
    – Doc
    Commented Apr 4, 2014 at 18:16
  • @Doc That's a great point! I hadn't thought of it as a handicap, just helping her, but you are ofc 100% correct. Commented Apr 4, 2014 at 18:49
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    This does not really address physical games like basketball or wrestling, which the OP may also have been thinking about. Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 17:57

Games are for fun, first and foremost. Kids don't need more lessons, they need more of your love and time. Let the lessons arise naturally. If you're most concerned about the winning and losing, then perhaps you've got a lesson to learn first, before trying to teach your children one.

Also, at different ages, games can be played different ways. For a small child--say, younger than seven or eight--just have fun. Stop trying to make everything a "character" lesson, because you'll fail, and miss the point entirely. For older kids, just play, and let the outcome happen! But: if the group isn't having fun, stop playing the game.


Very practical question. +1 of course!

I can relate myself very well to this. My 8-yr-old daughter is very possessive winning all the time and gets upset if she loses. I tackle this my way.

I'll let her win and at times, will beat her in games. But then, there's a trick. I always teach her how to play that game. And, in the beginning, when she's learning, I let her win. But then in between, I help her to beat me in the game by showing her the tricks/moves.

Once she gets a good grasp on the game, I start beating her in a game telling the reason of the wrong move she made. At first, she resists but then she understands and then on, takes care of that. I often tell her that see, you lost this game as you moved this wrong and if you want to win, you have to take care of this now on and trust me, she takes care!

I cannot give a specific number/ratio to this but then it depends on her maturity, her maturity in game and not age! If she's is getting mature, I become tough to get beaten. Two things happen - she learns more and masters the game and I will play my natural game than concentrating on making smart mistakes that she'd not understand and that would let her win!

  • When teaching a game, I will usually begin by adopting a more basic strategy than I might otherwise use, at least until my opponent learns the rules. Then I'll move on to playing "normally" (which generally means being a tough opponent), but may intentionally make a single, significant mistake - as a test to see if they notice. If they don't, I might give them one or two more openings at the most, and then, win or lose, I'll discuss those mistakes afterwards and explain how they could have capitalized on them. Also, sometimes I genuinely mess up, but even then, I won't let on until it's over. Commented Mar 21, 2016 at 22:47

I think you could usefully approach this question as if you were a video game designer trying to make a fun and engaging game. You want the player (in this case, your kids) to win often enough (and not too often) to keep them engaged and interested. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's concept of Flow is usually cited here.

As Jeremy Miller's nice answer (+1!) noted, teaching strategy is a better way to help the kids win. In general, setting a high bar and then teaching the kids what they need in order to reach that high bar is a good strategy, where feasible. As an addition to Jeremy's answer, explaining your own moves and maybe showing some of your hidden information (e.g. cards in your hand) as needed for the explanation can also be helpful, so they can see good strategy, understand why those are good decisions, see how they work out, and if they work out well they might adopt the strategy themselves in future games. Especially young kids may see your level of knowledge as a ceiling or upper bound, so if you're using bad strategy they may either pick up on the losing strategies or (esp. if they're old enough to reliably connect the outcome with the strategy, and think you are trying your best to win) conclude that strategy does not lead to winning. Where you make strategy mistakes with immediate consequences, point out those consequences (esp. when the consequences result from them responding appropriately with good strategy). Do your best is a valuable lesson to model, especially when the kid is engaged in the activity (game) and old enough to have theory of mind.

Folks often give up on a goal if they think it'll be impossible for them to reach, or if it seems sufficiently unlikely without a corresponding potentially large reward. Therefore, if you bias the (kid's) win percentage to be lower (as strategy develops), pair wins with a good degree of praise and make the experience rewarding. Focus that praise on you won rather than I lost (note the difference in agency and more positive focus associated with the kid's doing something good), unless the kid is being a sore winner and causing opponents to feel excessively bad about losing.

Then you're teaching a lesson (that might not be obvious for a while) about a good way to behave when your opponent has just beaten you in some accomplishment. A more important lesson from this might apply to how hard work, good strategy, doing the right thing, etc. doesn't produce a reward every time, and even when it does it's often not an immediate reward, but if you keep at it, it can eventually produce a very rewarding experience. Then, later in life, your kid might be less likely to give up in the face of difficult challenges when they don't seem to be winning. (Warning: they may be more stubborn as teens, if your rules are the perceived challenge.)

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