9 Reasons to Let Your Kids Lose

9 Reasons to Let Your Kids Lose

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Updated on Jan 8, 2012

Have you ever bent the rules of a board game so your kids wouldn't lose? Slowed down during a backyard race so your child is first to the finish line? That impulse makes sense at first blush. An adult can handle a loss at Go Fish much more easily than your average preschooler. Letting your child win protects her from feeling bad.

But as it turns out, research tells us that losing games is good for children, and helps them develop into empathetic, well-adjusted people.

"We naturally, as parents, want to protect our children from pain," says Christine Carter, author of Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents. "Sometimes kids need to experience discomfort, or sometimes great disappointment, to grow."

If your child reacts to losing by pouting or throwing game pieces on the floor, it might be hard to remember that the experience is for his own good. However, getting through a minor loss now has benefits in the long run.

Coping skills. The world is a competitive place. As Carter notes, losing in a board game at home with a parent is much easier for a child to handle than experiencing her first loss in a public place, like a competition in front of her kindergarten class. Kids who have practice losing learn how to be good sports. "If they don't lose, they're being set up to not be able to cope," says Carter, director of the parenting program at The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California-Berkeley.

Learning from mistakes. If a game requires specific skills or strategies, losing gives children a chance to analyze how they might have done better. Jon Oliver, co-author of Lesson One: The ABCs of Life, compares this to athletes who watch videos of past games to spot weaknesses in their play. "Every day we make a mistake and we learn from it," he says. "If you make a mistake, what do you do the next time?"

Self-confidence. Children might improve their skills so they'll get better at a game they've lost, but as a result they'll learn new things. Becoming more knowledgeable builds their belief in themselves and pride in their abilities. Plus, they'll learn that performing well comes from giving their best effort.

Empathy. Kids can't identify with others who are going through a loss if they've never had that experience. Every time your child loses a game, he receives a little lesson in the fact that everyone has to struggle through life, whether that means studying to get an A on a test or persevering through soccer practice before scoring the perfect goal. "We feel empathy by feeling hurt ourselves," says Melody Brooke, a marriage and family therapist in Texas.

Self-control. No child can get her way all the time. Losing sometimes shows kids that they can't expect good things to be handed to them, and that they have to behave well around others or risk being labeled a sore loser. Oliver notes that like any skill, losing with grace takes practice.

Joy in having fun. Children with the ability to handle a loss can have a good time playing a game even if they don't win. "The most important thing is that it's not about the outcome," Carter says.

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