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Tuesdays with Jane: Does Your Child Know How to Lose?

As the youngest of five children, I had plenty of chances to practice losing. And, when I became an aunt, my brothers reminded me, “Remember—only let our kids win fair and square. They need to learn to lose!”

Today, our family gatherings are still filled with games, with the contestants ranging in age from 5-65 years of age. We all know how to win—and lose—graciously. You can help your children become good players and good sports by following a few simple guidelines.

Help Them Learn to Stick With It. While many adults groan at the idea of Candyland or Chutes and Ladders, these games are guaranteed to help children learn to a) stay in the game even when behind and b) not count their chickens before they hatch. Remind them with phrases such as, “I’m way ahead now, but remember last time I fell all the way down that big slide. Let’s keep going.” Or, “You like candy hearts. If you draw that card, you can have fun thinking of a new saying for them as you try to catch up with me again!”

Balance Luck and Skill. Some games require thinking, like Cranium or Memory (and this is one where children can often beat parents legitimately!). Some, like Booby Trap, require a dexterity that children can master with a bit of practice. Some, like Sorry! or Life, require a bit of strategy and a lot of luck. And some, like Checkers, require skill and strategy. Make sure some of all three are around your house so your children have both a chance of winning legitimately and learning ever-more challenging games.

Talk Strategy. While you don’t want to “dumb down” your play so your children think they should always be the winners, you can make your strategies visible. For example with Set (check the online daily puzzle at if you’re unfamiliar with this all-ages gem), you might say, “There’s only one card with three objects, so I’m first going to look for sets in that card’s colors.” Or with Yahtzee, “I might as well take my ones on this throw since that way I’ll only lose two points.”

Focus on fun instead of on winning. While you want to help your child learn to compete graciously, cooperating can help them along that path. Work together to find the best path to the treasure in Amazing Labyrinth or to build tangrams. Forbidden Island requires cooperation to win. On our family game nights, each person got to choose one game to play—and everyone had to go along with all the choices. Somehow this kept things less competitive at our house, since each child had a good chance of winning at least once!

If you can create a family of good sports, game-playing makes holidays magical. There are so many great games that require a crowd—or at least a card table full of great times!


By Jane Kise, Ed.D. – Educational Advisor and Consultant, 
Jane  writes an insightful post every Tuesday for Kidtelligent. Jane is an educational consultant, specializing in teambuilding, coaching, and school staff development. She is also the coauthor of more than 20 books. Jane’s website  is