How can I help if my child doesn’t like to lose a game?

Parents of a preschooler know that games are not always fun. A young child often insists on playing by her own rules and gets upset if she loses.

This typical preschool behavior can make it difficult for you and your child to genuinely enjoy playing games. It takes time, often not until the kindergarten years, for children to show better control over their feelings, understand the purpose of rules, and no longer focus entirely on the need to win.

Since young children don’t like to lose, they’ll say, “I don’t want this card,” or “I’ll tell you when it’s your turn.” They also spontaneously change rules so they can win: “From now on let’s say you can bounce the ball twice.” At these ages, children can’t put themselves in another person’s position and understand that others want to win just as they do.

Game playing is essentially a social activity. However, young children aren’t able to consistently cooperate with each other enough to always play fairly. Also, they can’t think carefully about others’ moves, anticipate other players’ actions, and prepare for a possible loss or a quick recovery. They don’t have the cognitive know-how to do these things, yet.

If you want playing games with your child to be fun, you’ll probably have to play by her rules. If you argue with her (“Hey, you already had your turn,” or “If you cheat, I’m putting the game away”), you’re taking playing games too seriously.

It’s okay to accommodate your child’s desire to win. And don’t worry, she’ll follow other adult guidelines in school or at a friend’s home if she’s required to. As she matures, it’ll be more enjoyable to play games with her, because she’ll have an easier time handling the competition in games and following rules. That’s just how development works.

In the meantime, don’t get angry or mean-spirited when you lose. Be a good example of how to handle disappointment and a positive example of good sportsmanship.