Play Games With Kids This Holiday!

Thanksgiving is a wonderful time to play games with young children and grandchildren.  This year, I was fortunate enough to have my 4 year old grandson visiting me for the holiday and it seems we’re spending every waking moment playing some kind of game.  Like lots of other kids, he is just getting to the age where he can sit down, listen to how a game is played and take turns while playing. He also understands what he has to do to win.

Like most children, my grandson loves it when he wins. And while it is tempting to stack the deck in his favor or let him win outright, I know from my teaching experience with Kindergartners that this is not a good idea. Let me tell you why.

We don’t win all the time in the real world
I know this may sound harsh, but the reality is that a person cannot win at everything he does or every time he plays a game. Children who are allowed to win when they play with adults will be very surprised, disappointed and even confused when they don’t win the game when they play with a friend or another adult.

I would occasionally see children in my Kindergarten class melt down into a tearful tantrum when they were not winning a game played with another classmate. Often the unhappy child would argue with his friend and then stomp away when things were not going as he expected.

To prepare your child for the real world, it is necessary to help him learn to lose gracefully and be willing to play when he does not know the outcome of the game. I’m not saying to purposely make sure that your child loses. That will happen naturally as the two of you play games together. Sometimes he will win and sometimes he will lose. That’s reality!

Games stop being fun if you always know who will win
Children love to win, of course. But if they win each time they play, the action becomes boring. There is no thrill to a game that is predictable. And it is also not much fun for the adult who throws every game so his child wins.

The rules are the same for everyone
Children who always win catch on eventually to the fact that they are being given leeway when it comes to following the rules of the game. While we all like to feel special, the subtle but clear message that “the rules don’t apply to me” can be very harmful to a child. To get along in our world and at school, children need to be respectful of the rules and guidelines. It keeps them safe as well as allows them to function effectively and get along with others.

How to play fairly with a young child
– Explain the rules and play a few times while reviewing the rules.

– Express excitement in playing and focus on the game, not the winner or loser.

– Gently remind your child about the rules if he forgets or tries to get around them. (One note: 4 year olds may try to “cheat” once in a while by moving their game piece or taking another spin. As long as this move does not result in an unfair win, if this only happens occasionally, and if the action is one that another child playing would not notice, then I let it go. Kids will be kids and calling a very young child out for every minor infraction can really take the fun out of the game. I would be more strict with an older child – 5 years old and older.)

– Let your child know that you are still having fun playing the game even when it appears that you are behind or losing.

– Say a quick “congratulations” when your child wins and ask to play again, if there is time. This will give your child the opportunity to feel happy about his win but not gloat over it. This also demonstrates good sportsmanship for your child.

– When you win, tell your child that he played a good game and ask to play again. Remind him that either one of you could win this next game! Once again you have to opportunity to demonstrate good sportsmanship!

Consider playing educational games
Besides the normal board games, there are lots of free educational games available online for kids. For example, there are many fun versions of rhyming memory, shape matching games or color words matching games that you could find and play immediately, without running out to the store.

For information on helping your child develop important school-readiness skills, please visit Renee at for a kindergarten readiness test and free kindergarten worksheets.
Renee Abramovitz is a a former preschool and kindergarten teacher who retired in 2008 to become a “full-time grandma” to her four beautiful grandsons. She is passionate about the idea that all parents are their child’s first and most important teacher and strives to give parents the tools and confidence they need to successfully work with their children at home. 

Renee shares tips for working with young children at where she offers a free kindergarten readiness test parents can take to assess their child’s readiness to start school plus hundreds upon hundreds of free kindergarten worksheets for parents to use at home with their children.
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  • putongkahoy , November 28, 2011

    Reality is actually pretty harsh. Work and some stuff prevent most of the family members from interacting with each other. Especially on the holiday seasons. This is a good help to those who'll be able to read this.


  • Small Town Mommy , November 28, 2011

    When my kids were younger, I would sometimes let them win just because they wouldn't win otherwise at certain things. I definitely wouldn't do it all the time but I think occasionally is okay.

  • Cascia Talbert , November 29, 2011

    I don't think it is good to let your kids win all the time. I remember an episode of the hit show Parenthood. A little girl in that show was so used to winning all the time that she threw a temper tantrum when she lost at a game. Her grandfather then taught her how to be a better sport when he beat her in a game of chess. I love playing games with my kids and I make sure the game is fair. Sometimes they win and sometimes they lose. Great tips, Renee!

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