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When to stop letting kids win at games

Experts weigh in on when parents should stop

Experts weigh in on when parents should stop letting their kids win at games. Credit: iStock

Q. Parents frequently "let" their kids win at board games and sporting activities. At what age should parents stop doing this?

A. "There is no hard-and-fast rule," says Laurie Zelinger, an elementary school psychologist for the Oceanside School District. "If I had to generalize, usually not before age 4." Developmentally, the child should understand turn-taking, waiting and the fact that the other person wants to win as well.

But each child -- and each game -- is different, and parents need to assess their own situations, she says. "It's very important for children to learn how to handle disappointment," Zelinger says. So when you start to best them, it also helps them learn to process losing.

When Zelinger plays with children in her private practice in Cedarhurst and wins, she'll say, "I won first, now you can win second." When she loses, she'll model appropriate behavior for both loser and winner.

She might have a pretend tantrum, and ask them, "Is that something I should do?" She'll discuss what they can say, as a gracious winner, to make her feel better. She'll suggest, "Maybe next time you'll win," or, "It was fun anyway."

When you start to introduce kids to losing, focus on their efforts. Say, "You threw that ball really high" or, "You swung that bat with so much energy." You can explain that you have a lot of practice because you're a grown-up, and that if they keep at it, they're likely to get better as well.

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