Letting kids win at games might actually be bad for them. According to new research from Amherst College, rigging a game so that young children always win prevents them from developing the skills necessary to formulate judgments about those skills. Essentially, if kids never have to try in order to succeed, they don’t learn how to succeed on their own.
This may not come as much of a surprise to teachers, but there are doubtless parents who wouldn’t expect this to be true. There seems to be a conventional wisdom that, when dealing with preschoolers, letting them win helps them build confidence. But that doesn’t actually build confidence; it just instills a model of thinking that everything will always work out without any effort.
In the study, children were given clues to find hidden objects, with one adult giving accurate clues and another giving false clues. Half the kids were in a group that were always going to find the objects, while the others only found the objects by following the correct clues.
They found that the children in the first group were not likely to see the clue giver as helpful, since no matter what answers they got, they found the objects. The children in the other group preferred the adult giving accurate clues, because those clues allowed them to actually find the objects and succeed at the game.
“This is important for two reasons,” says Amherst College psychology professor Carrie Palmquist, one of the co-authors of the paper. “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.”
Although there will likely need to be more research into this phenomenon to better understand it, there seems to be enough here to make the general assumption that letting kids win at games isn’t a good idea. While these children will eventually realize that they have to put in effort to succeed in the real world, letting them win by default could delay the development of very important skills.