Let Your Kid Lose

I admit it.

I can't stand to see my child lose.  Whether it's a team sport or a grade, I can't stand to see him feel like he's a loser.

I suppose I'm not a very good parent. Because experts say that, while you may think letting your preschooler win at Go Fish builds self-confidence, you could actually be doing your child a disservice.

When young kids experience “illusory success” related to a particular task, their ability to formulate and act on judgments they make about their own performance suffers. As a result, the children may become conditioned to ignore valuable information they could use in future decision-making.

It turns out that we're not really helping them to try to help them succeed at everything.

My son, who, as I've mentioned before, is a bit of a nerd, never did well at sports.  I still remember him crying as he ran down the soccer field in preschool because he so didn't want to be there (go figure, he now plays soccer every weekend).   When he joined a house team in elementary school, they always put him where the soccer ball never went.   It got better in middle school and now that he's in high school and plays on a more advanced team, he can hold his own.

But I still obsess when he's on the field, terrified he's going to miss the ball when it comes to him (yes), or lets it go by him when a teammate passes to him. 

I'm his parent so, of course, I console him.  "It came at you too fast." "That other player was in the way." "You almost got there."  It breaks my heart when he says, "I didn't have a good game today."

According to the experts, though, I'm not being a good mom.

In a series of experiments, researchers asked 4- and 5-year-olds to play a hiding game with objects, in which two adult “experimenters” offered them clues. One experimenter gave accurate clues; the other gave inaccurate ones, according to newswise.com.

Researchers then manipulated the game for half of the children so that no matter where the kids looked, they always found the hidden objects. The successes of the remaining children were left to chance, meaning that the kids were more likely to find the hidden objects with the helpful adult than the unhelpful one.

After the games, the scientists asked their young research subjects which of the two people they would like to ask for help in finding additional hidden objects.

“Kids who had been in the rigged version of the game showed no preference for the previously helpful person,” said one researcher. “In fact, they didn’t even think of her as having been helpful.”

The kids who were in the unrigged version showed a clear preference for the helpful person.

“When children were extremely successful, they seemed to ignore otherwise relevant cues as to who would be a better source of information,” a second researcher explained.

“This is important for two reasons,” she continued. “First, it suggests that children may not be as savvy as previous research has suggested. Second, it suggests that in the real world, when children experience a great deal of success on a task—mom or dad always letting them win at a game, for example—they may become less aware of important information that they could use to learn about the world, because they see it as less relevant to their future success.”


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