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How to play games with pre-schoolers

I’m really competitive when it comes to games.  I always was, and with a younger brother who was just the same, playing games was interesting in our childhood house.  I don’t really remember our mum playing with us, apart from maybe Monopoly and Trivial Pursuits when we were older, and then a bit of Ludo when we were pretty young, but we’ve both got a sense of fairness instilled, which presumably she taught us.

So now that N’s (kind of) starting to play games, I have to decide how I’m going to play them with him.

His cousins were always keen on playing games over at the farm.  On big family meal occasions Connect Four and similar games would get brought out for a set of challenges.  The oldest nephew is good on maths and competitive as well, so there was no letting him win.  But the OH would always tell me off for playing to win against them when they’re only children.

I don’t agree with letting children win.    Yes, help them, teach them how to play, give them pointers, but don’t hand it to them on a plate.

At the moment, N doesn’t really understand the whole game having a winner (or staying focused for long enough for everyone to take turns).  He’s also partial to a bit of resourcefulness cheating when things get hard going.


But it’s my belief that children, especially once they’re a bit older, need to understand that some games are down to luck, some are down to skill and practice, and that they can’t always win.  Plus of course, how much more satisfying must it be when as a child you beat an adult.  I still remember when the eldest nephew beat the OH at Connect Four 3 times in a row due to his own skill and being able to look ahead (numbers and logical maths type problems aren’t really my OH’s forte!).

Can you tell I’ll be the parent lamenting the ‘everyone wins’ mentality that some school sports days have?  At our primary school in juniors we had qualifying fastest people for the sprint and long 300 metre race, the others were more fun events which everyone could take part in.  On the day for the qualified events, and prior where the field events took place, you could get points and there was a trophy.  It was something to aim for, and there was something for everyone to take part in whatever their level of sportiness.  I really hope that the school N ends up at, will encourage achievement and competition, and that it’s something that N will seek out.

For the time being, we’ll stick with teaching him how to play games, play fair (ahem!) and to be a good winner or loser.

How are your children with games?  What is your take on playing with them?

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  1. I always needed to win as a child, and would mainly cheat at games!
    Now as an adult I think that kids do need to learn about winning and loosing, it is part of life, and games are really good at teaching this. My daughter is amazing at Monopoly and wins every time.
    It drives me mad at the kids school when it is sports day and they have the ‘everyone is a winner’ attitude

    1. Sssh, I used to cheat as well, when it was possible!
      The school bit would definitely do my head in, especially for children who work hard and achieve really well so should be rewarded. Ok, so it’s harder on those who aren’t so strong, but not everyone can be brilliant at everything.
      Thanks for commenting

  2. My pre-schooler does the same thing with his games. I think it’s part of the learning process for them. But I agree that you should play to win – teaching children how to cope with losing is just as important as teaching them to win.

    1. He’s definitely just learning at the moment. He loves that game, and Elefun – he’s really amusing with that as he doesn’t grasp the fact that he can move around to catch the butterflies. He just stands there and waits for them to fall into his net.

  3. I totally agree with you! I let Gracie win sometimes but only because she doesn’t understand much about how to win so I make sure we all ‘win’ at some point when playing to show it’s still fun when other people win. I think letting a child win all the time teaches them to be spoilt and react badly when playing with other children x

    1. I agree. As they’re learning they need to learn about what winning means, and that means experiencing what it’s like for everyone playing to win.

  4. It is smart parenting to teach children how to deal with failure when they can’t always win. I always taught my competitive children that there is always someone who isn’t as good as you and there is always someone who is better. Respect both. Enjoy your sweet preschooler!

    1. What you taught yours definitely makes sense. There’s always things that some people are better at, and others they’re weaker at. It’s about excelling at the things you’re good at and doing your best at those you struggle with.
      Thanks for commenting

  5. Amelia doesn’t understand winning a game yet but when she is old enough I will be teaching her not to be a bad loser. x

    1. Oh yes, the bad loser thing. My brother always said I was a bad loser, but I think it was just that we were both so competitive. I didn’t have strops, but I do remember slapping my best friend (she’s still a friend) because she wasn’t playing fair. Maybe I’m not painting the best picture of myself…I was nice really!

  6. I absolutely agree with you that you need to play to win. it’s all very well letting your child win but then what happens when they play with other children or when you have multiple children? Children need to learn that failure is a part of life and that it’s nothing to be afraid of, otherwise they will never develop the resources to deal with it. And they also need to learn that everyone has different skills and we can’t all excel at everything.
    Taking this approach does mean though that board games will invariably end in tears – I can remember very few games of Monopoly when I was growing up that didn’t end in one of my brothers upsetting the board and storming off! But that’s the sort of thing that happy family memories are made of ….

    1. So agree. Don’t think we ever had tears as children, but usually because there were certain games that always tended to have the same winner. My poor mum never stood a chance at money games, but scrabble was another story.

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