“Just let him win.”
I am in the middle of game 12 or 13 of Chutes and Ladders with my four-year-old son when my wife says this. At issue is my son’s moaning because he wanted to spin a 4 to land on the huge ladder on square 28 that would take him up to square 84, but he spun a 5 instead.
Me, I’m somewhere near the top, a few more chutes in my path serving as potential pitfalls, but still a good 50 or so squares ahead of my son. He’s won some games, I’ve won some games, but in his little mind, losing at all is a cause for extreme frustration.
And losing does suck. But we all have to learn how to do it.
My son wants to keep spinning until he gets that 4. I tell him I don’t want to play otherwise; after he insists and spins until he does get a 4, I keep spinning until I get the number I want.
“You can’t play that way!” he tells me.
“Why not?” I say. “You did. We either play by the same rules, or the game is no fun.”
All of which prompted my wife’s plea from the kitchen.
“Okay!” says my son, throwing his hands in the air. “I won’t do that any more daddy. Let’s play again!”
I nod and smile. I know he would get the concept. It just had to be explained to him.
* * *
Extreme? Why should I try to win against a four-year-old? Shouldn’t I just grow up?
I am not trying to win against him. I am trying to teach him how to play by the rules, how to lose, and how to win honestly.
I don’t know if this is a father/mother gender difference, harshness versus nurturing or whatever, but I think my son is old enough to start understanding these concepts.
At a certain point, letting kids win teaches all kinds of the wrong lessons. And if we want mentally tough adults, we have to start young.
I am not trying to be cruel to him, or to achieve any sort of victory over a little kid. I am trying to teach him how to handle adversity and overcome it.
Take a look at this piece from an 1861 issue of The Atlantic called “The Advantages of Defeat” written after the Union Army’s defeat at the Battle of Bull Run during the American Civil War:
The honor lost in our recent defeat cannot be regained,—but it is indeed one of the advantages of defeat to teach men the preciousness of honor, the necessity of winning and keeping it at any cost.
Bull Run was the first major battle of the Civil War, and the Union, thinking it would waltz to an easy victory, got whomped.
Now, we know how the war turned out, but the Union was really on the ropes for a while there at the beginning. Many bitter lessons learned through defeat–and what they did with those lessons–made all of the difference.
Am I really comparing playing board games with my son to the American Civil War? Yes. Because the same lessons are at play.
Learning how to lose is just as important as learning how to win.
Continue reading “Let Them Lose: Four Lessons from Defeat Kids Need to Learn Early”