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The Importance of Playing Games with Your Preschooler

No Fair! I Never Win!

Should you let your preschooler win some games? That is, should you throw the game, take a dive, shave points, or lose on purpose?

Well, you might argue that intentionally losing a game patronizes your child. Rather than giving him a false sense of confidence, you should play as well as you can and let the chips fall where they may. If your child loses, so be it. After all, your preschooler needs to get to know both sides of competitive etiquette: how to lose gracefully as well as how to win without rubbing it in.

But then, you want your child to enjoy playing games. And if he loses all the time, chances are that rather than being motivated to try harder and win next time, he will lose interest in the game altogether. So if you want to maintain your preschooler's interest in games, he's going to have to win at least close to half the times he plays.

Of course, this still doesn't mean you necessarily have to throw a game. You can still take a hard line, refusing to take a dive to let your child win. But if you do, then you should probably confine your game-playing with him to games that are ruled strictly by luck or chance, games that involve little or no skill—in other words, games that your preschooler has an even chance to win. Most games for preschoolers—Chutes and Ladders, Hi-Ho Cherry-O, Candyland, and so on—are in fact ruled strictly by chance.

On the other hand, many card games appropriate for preschoolers-Concentration, Crazy Eights, even Go Fish—do involve at least an element of skill. In such games, you will (probably) be a superior player. If you still insist on playing your best and trying to win games that involve more skill and sophistication, then consider giving yourself some kind of a handicap. In Concentration, for instance, you might start your child out with six or eight pairs of cards before you lay out the rest on the floor. Trial and error will help you come up with an appropriate handicap: one that adds suspense (regarding who will win) to the game.


In certain games that seem to go on forever (War comes to mind), your child will probably not appreciate it if you just quit. In such cases, taking a dive may be the quickest and most painless way to end it.

Certainly your child needs to learn to lose gracefully. After all, other preschoolers are not likely to let him win when they play with him. So before he begins playing games with other children, your preschooler needs to understand that every child wants to win the game, but that only one can win.

But at the same time, the lessons of game playing should not revolve exclusively around losing gracefully. Winning a game, especially beating you (who are so much bigger and stronger and smarter, etc.), will give your preschooler great joy and an enormous boost of confidence. It also gives you an opportunity to model grace in defeat (if you can manage to do so).

More on: Preschool

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Parenting a Preschooler and Toddler, Too © 1997 by Keith M. Boyd, M.D., and Kevin Osborn. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit Amazon's web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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