Letting Your Child Win

Carmel Valley San Diego Community | Letting Them Win | Dr. Keith Kanner

Photo by Layla Mazdyasni

When you play with your kids, do you let them win?  If your kid is under the age of 10, you should really consider letting your child win.  Children between the ages of 4 and 10, are obsessed with the concepts of winning, losing, and fairness.  After all, growing up means giving up all sorts of childhood fantasies that we as parents have always enjoyed.  But, once children begin to dabble in the world of reality testing, they get disappointed, very disappointed and winning fills the gap of a major sense of losing which they all feel.  The losses are huge and widespread during these years.  Wishes to become superheroes, Princes and Princesses, and even your husband or wife, makes us all smile and the list goes on.  But, nothing compares to the wish to be the only child, and this one really hurts the most once they experience the birth of a sibling.  So, kids, like adults, try to find other ways to feel successful and winning is a primary way that kids try to erase their losing pains. It also is a way to build up a healthy ego that they need to have in place in order to make it through the adolescent years without too many scars.  The problem however, is that every other child at their stage of development is on that same page and compete with each other everywhere from the classroom to the football field and they face the music of having to tolerate the fate of reality –  that we win and lose about half the time. I think if we could all come to terms with this early in life and accept it, we all would be better off, but kids, especially little ones, which still includes 10 and 11 year-olds, can’t seem to shake off the losing very well, and that’s normal. In fact, too much losing at once can kill a child’s spirit pretty quickly.

For example, my middle son is playing his first year of pop warner football.  That is tackle football by the way which I have mixed feelings about at his age anyway due to the high level of competitiveness at this age.  Meanwhile, our team began the season undefeated and were on a serious “winning” high until  we were handed our first loss.  The emotional impact of that loss blanketed the team with such a sense of defeat that no matter what we did as the coaches, their spirit was killed.  Even our team mom, who was a past Pepperdine University cheerleader couldn’t do enough back flips to get them past this loss.  So, then after two more back to back losses, we have slipped to third place and the boys feel more like they are in last place.  Welcome to the mental world of nine year old boys.  If they are going to win any more games this season, we are going to have to find some areas where they feel like winners and use that spirit to get them carry it on to the football field.   Kids before adolescence need success and support to feel good about themselves before going into puberty.   It’s like the pre-teen years are training camp for adolescence, where the more you practice and feel successful the smoother transition will be in store for those stormy teenage years.  In fact, kids who feel good about themselves tend to be the healthiest – kind of makes sense.

Size also really matters for kids in this age group.  In most cases, the bigger is considered better so bigger wins carry more weight and will often compensate for smaller losses. Here is where parents can come in particularly handy.  If kids beat us at something, it’s a big win.  Whenever my kids beat me at something, they do feel better, especially if they won fair and square.  Therefore, one way to help your kids feel like a winner is to lose to them and make a big deal that they beat you.  Even having a small temper tantrum that you lost can go a long way in celebrating that your child beat you.  It is also a great way to show them how ridiculous a temper tantrum looks in real life.  But, the key is to help them feel great about their victory.  I always tell parents that the two forums where you actually want your child to brag out loud is to you the parent and themselves.  Bragging to their friends only creates greater competition, but bragging to mom and dad should be encouraged and celebrated.  If parents can’t handle their child boasting about feeling good and victorious, then we have a real problem on our hands.  Home is suppose to be a place to let your hair down and share how you are really feeling.  As parents, we need to be that safe harbor where we can help our kids compensate for their losses by making them feel like winners.  Can you see why letting your child win is important?

That old adage of toughing up is just that, an old adage.  Just go back and watch The Great Santini.  Sure, we can make too big of a deal about losing or getting hurt, but we can also minimize it which is equally a problem.  Losing, like winning, are emotional moments which need to be experienced and processed or children will learn that certain feelings are not okay.  If a child determines that losing is a “bad” emotion, then a lot of kids will believe that losing is not tolerated inside or outside and here the real problems begin to form.   On the other hand, no one will argue with the feeling of victory.  These feelings win and lead to greater achievements. When kids win, they feel victorious and such feelings can then healthfully compensate for those “losing” feelings.  As with other functions that parents serve and provide to their children is knowing when their kids need some love or some “winning” feelings, which we can directly provide to them by just being gracious losers.

Key Points:

* small children experience loss differently then older children and adolescents

* losing feelings are especially difficult for the 6 to 8 year olds

* too much loss during this time can lead to poor self-esteem in adolescence

* winning can lessen losing feelings

* when kids beat their parents, it’s a big deal and a big win

* parents need to be good losers too

Carmel Valley San Diego Community | Dr. Keith Kanner

Dr. Keith Kanner


Dr. Keith Kanner is a Licensed and Board Certified Clinical Child, Adolescent, and Adult Psychologist and Psychoanalyst. In addition to running a full-time private practice, he is an Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry in the School of Medicine at the University of California San Diego where he teaches both human development and also trains medical students how to better understand and relate to their patients. He also serves as the Director of Clinical Counseling for La Jolla Country Day School in La Jolla, California, and is a Clinical Professor at The San Diego Psychoanalytic Society and Institute. Dr. Kanner also sits on the National Board of Directors for Kids Korps USA, which is the largest organization in the country that teaches children and adolescents the importance of volunteering to help the community at large. As a father of three children, he is also a dedicated baseball, football, and soccer coach.


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