The Benefits of Losing

I slammed the ball into the wall, just as my mule went flying off my foot into the other direction.  I played on, hobbling toward my next hit and slapping the ball into the wall a third time.  Quickly it was returned.


“Game point,” I shouted.


The ball came to me and I nailed it into the wall.


The others dove across the asphalt trying to reach the blue, rubber, ball, with their tiny, outstretched hands, just as it kissed the edge of the wall and bounced off into oblivion.  They were unsuccessful.  I walked over to the heap of little humans and said:


“Who’s the man?  Huh?  Who’s the man?”


“God, you always win,” one of them said peeling himself off the top.


“It’s annoying,” said the one who was mine.  “And you’re a girl,” he added grabbing my hand.  “Can we go home now?”


It was then that I looked around for the first time.  Strange.  None of the other nannies on the playground were this engaged in handball with their little boy charges.


“Sure, let’s get my shoe,” I said, as we limped over to the far side of the tar court.


I could feel the stares of the other bored nannies heat up my back as they sat on the benches pretending to text.  They were saying to themselves, “I wonder where little Bill’s mom got that one?  Craigslist?  Who plays handball with their kids?  It’s weird.”


If this is wrong, Momma, I don’t want to be right!


Maybe it’s not cool to play handball with the 7 year old you’re babysitting, but I never thought I was there just to “watch” him.  A paid security guard could do that.  I thought I was there to teach him what I know.  You see, that’s my problem.  I always take things too far.


It all started with the kid beating me at chess.  Yep, a 7 year old beat me at chess.  In my defense, he was one of these super smarty pants kids who was in chess club from the age of 3.  He also attended a New York City magnet school for the gifted.  Basically, he had an education that the older me would’ve killed for.


Now, it’s not that his beating me at chess got to my ego.  Well, it sort of did, but not so much.  I’m pretty grounded and for god’s sake, I can handle a 7 year old beatdown.  What it did do was open up my curiosity.  A 7 year old can beat me at chess?  That’s so interesting.  Why is that?  It did this crazy thing to me.  It made me WANT to play chess.  I’ve never really enjoyed the game.  Never played it much as a kid, but once beaten by a 7 year old, it awakened the learning side of me.  I started thinking, “What’s the trick to this game?  What does he know that I don’t?”



There was only one problem.  The kid didn’t want to play me at chess anymore.  I bored him.  Literally.  It was too easy for him.


So, I made a decision right then and there, I would beat him at everything else.


When I think back on my own dad, he always beat us at games.  He still does, for the most part.  Although sometimes my brother will win now, my mother, and -yes- even me from time to time.  He’s a good game player my father.  He likes them.  Mainly, because there are rules to games and he likes rules.  Rules are black and white.  Emotions are grey and, therefore, confusing.


I don’t think my dad EVER let me win.  I can’t even remember it once, even as a kid.  But, I’m not sure he showed me how to win either.  Winning is something that I had to develop on my own.


With children, it seems to me there is a very fine line here.  You need to win enough so that they are challenged, but not beat them so much (or with very little communication) that they leave the game (and probably life) feeling completely defeated.


“Did you have fun playing the game?” I asked the little one.


“Yeah, but you always win,” he shrugged.


“Well, what was the score of the first game?” I asked him.


He gave me the answer.


“And the second game?” I continued.


He answered again.


“You see how much closer in the second game your score was to mine?”


“Yeah,” he said.


“And what does that mean?” I asked.


“It means that I’m getting better?” he responded.


“Yep, not far away from beating me, I’m guessing.  Do you remember the pointers I taught you?”


And then he was off…rambling on and on, in the way only a smart 7 year old can.  He talked excitedly about the game and how well he played.  He remembered different points and gave me a play by play re-cap.  You see, this kid ALWAYS wanted to play handball with me and he never wanted to play chess.  Why?  Because he was getting better.  He had some place to go with it and that kept it interesting.


I read this fascinating line from an article on Obama.  In it, he’s talking about his kids and he adds a final thought (I am paraphrasing), “Let your kids win until they are about 1 year old.  Then start winning.”


I agree.  Win.  Win lots.  But, what’s very important with kids is the HOW you win.  Do you win and just end the game?  Or do you analyze it and show them what they can improve by slowly coaching them to win on their own in time?


Letting kids win.  Should you do it?  Sometimes?  Never?  As always, I’d love to know your thoughts.



Sweet Mother is updated daily-ish.  If you’d like to follow the madness, you can do so by clicking the “follow” button at the top of the blog.



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Photo creds:

handball-feature, b&whandball, chessboard


41 thoughts on “The Benefits of Losing

  1. Good post. My husband taught our eldest chess when he was about 4 and the kid became addicted to it. He learned the game well enough to eventually beat a lot of adults (his father included). I’m sure I thought hub should have let the kid win… who knows.

    1. i read this fascinating book, of course, can’t remember the name of it now – where a guy says to his wife, “I’m going to raise two chess champions.” And literally raises two chess champions. He played them like 8 hours a day or something communist like that. Lol. It’s still fascinating though, all of it, and how kids learn. Thanks for reading, dear friend. Much love, sm

  2. witty and wise a good combination, really enjoyed reading this. Had a minor panic this morning after transferring my blog between accounts because i had to unfollow everyone but back here again after a quick search through back up emails 🙂

    1. thank you, bruce. i know, i do anything technical and it immediately scares the poo out of me. i’m one button away from losing it all! lool. anyway, really glad you enjoyed the read. this was one i sat on. and i’m glad it did. i think it gave me more perspective. much love, sm

    1. it’s so interesting. i don’t think i thought about it this in depth until i read that obama post… but, i’m glad i have now. maybe dudes are just more naturally geared to think that way? not sure. much love, sm

  3. This is why you are not only “Sweet Mother” but also “Super Mother”. Your gaybys will always be very lucky.

  4. Wonderful post. I probably let my kids win a few times when they were little, but my husband never did. Sometimes I got a lump in my throat when I saw their sad little faces over not beating him, but I think there are wise points to your and my husband’s technique. Of course, now that my kids are older, they’re beating my husband at everything. He’s not taking too kindly to being beaten in foosball by my 12 year old on a regular basis. Guess he’s getting his comeuppance. 😉

    And for the record–sounds like you were a great nanny. Not only did you play with the child (and what mother wouldn’t want that), but you tried to impart lessons. Very cool.

    1. i probably take everything way too seriously. lol. the kid was smart and it was fun sort of coaching a smart kid. the winning thing is really interesting. and i loved hearing about your experience vs. what your hubs was doing. it’s interesting that the guys want to play to win regardless. and really, maybe that’s a good instinct. i think it’s hilarious that he’s losing a few things now. that day always comes, now, doesn’t it? loool. thanks again for reading, carrie. you’re a blessing to me on this blog. much love, sm

      1. You’re sweet with your words, Momma girl. And yes, my poor hubby; not only is he losing his hair but he has to lose at games now, too. The circle of life, I guess.

  5. Haha Great post! You are correct, you can’t have kids win all the time bc they will learn the wrong message that success comes easily and will never learn at first you don’t succeed, try try again!

    1. there’s a great video that i should’ve included too, called, “don’t eat the marshmallow” – it’s a fascinating little study they did where if kids could wait they would get two marshmallows or they could eat the one right now. all of the kids that waited were interviewed later in life and are successful. the ones who ate it right away, not so much. so, working towards something is big, i think. anyway, thanks for the awesome comment, lotta. you are so right. and thank you for reading. sm

  6. A very thought-provoking post. I think kids learn at a very early age to pick on non-verbal cues that I am sure parents must be giving off when they LET the kids win. My kid brother (11 years younger) used to feel cheated when my dad used to make cricket easy for him. So, I guess we shouldn’t let kids win. At the same time, we should teach them, with real-life examples how losing could be a strong motivator.

    1. as always, such great commentary, ap. i read that somewhere as well, that children KNOW when you’re letting them win and that makes them feel cheated. so, that’s no good either. as with all things, a middle ground is probably best and learning how to deal with healthy competition. at least those are my thoughts at the moment. much love, sm

  7. I see the value in teaching kids how to deal with losing, but deep down I’m such a softie. I would let the kid win, even to his detriment. I’m stupid that way. I guess I would rely on the mom to dole out the tough love.
    Nice post.

    1. …and there’s a lot of women who would love you for that approach, bharat. there are probably no black and whites here, as it is with many things. i think it’s sweet that you’re a softie. 😉 sm

  8. Those kids are better off losing to you than if they played in some “feel good” league where everyone wins a trophy and no one loses. People need to learn to lose, it’s a lot more difficult than learning how to win.

  9. You whip their little 7 year old asses! Take no prisoners!

    Moms have I missed the results of your photo caption contest #2?

    1. nope, i haven’t done it yet. i’m going to put up all the reggies for the first contest to get them out of the way, then i’ll announce the winners for round two, and then i’ll launch caption contest three…bare with me, it is all on the way shortly! and i beat them good, i did. loool. much love, fabs, much love. sm

  10. I’m afraid that Bharat and I both fall into the bleeding heart category, so it’s a good thing that our kids have my husband to defeat them, encourage them to do things that make me cringe, tell them it’s only a flesh wound…you know things that will help them face the world and not crumble at the first difficulty. I just stand by with bandaids and hugs.

    1. the whole world needs more hugs. so, i think that’s a great thing. they’re getting the best of both sides. now, if it was all love and hugs and trophies, they might turn into paris hilton, but i don’t see that happening with a mom like you. Hell, i don’t see that really anywhere i look in this blog land, but – hell – i see it in hollywood all the time. that’s how shows like, ‘the hills’ get created. lol. much love, sm

  11. I think it depends on how old the child is. A three year old. Sure they can win, they think they can fly. But once a child becomes old enough to understand and truly appreciate what a game is and how it is played. Then teach them to win.

  12. Great post, SM, and great comments too.
    I cringe at these mamby-pamby ideas that kids can’t be allowed to lose any more. It’s the same with the education system that won’t let kids fail exams any more, they all have to pass, just at different levels.
    No wonder so few kids grow up into well-rounded adults these days. Grrrrr!!
    Beat ’em, yes, but make a life lesson out of it to help them grow, on that I’m with you all the way. 🙂

    1. mee, you can watch my gaybies any day! wait, i don’t have any. okay, you can watch my invisible gaybies. i am so with you on all points. there’s a lot that can be learned from games. and one of them is – you’ve got to work, get better, and then usually – but not always – you can win. ;0 much love, sm

  13. When I was in my teens we had a full sized table tennis table set up in the house. Don’t ask. My Dad and I were completely obsessed with table tennis and almost everyone who came to the house was roped in to play. I was good but my Dad was better and tended to win most of the time, even against players 20 years younger than him. Then one day we were having a party and of course table tennis was part of it. Our guests included some cute young guys and so Dad and I were showing off. And Dad let me win. Not by much but it was a win. Yet even as I bathed in the glory a part of me knew I hadn’t won fair and square. I was grateful to Dad for letting me shine but I would have preferred to beat him for real.

    Dad was one of those parents who ‘taught’ as naturally as drawing breath and the thing he taught me was that a win has to be real.

    Great post Mum!

    1. i love, LOVE, that story about your dad and the table tennis. and by the way, wifesy and i LOVE table tennis. we are like nut-balls about it. we can’t wait to own a home with a backyard where we can put one up! in our old development there was a rec center that had a killer one and we played that thing non-stop. non-stop. it’s such an awesomely fun game. you should read ‘bouce’ too. that guy was britain’s ping pong champ and the whole book was fascinating. anyway, i’m with you – an earned win is something you never forget and it feels good for all the right reasons. much love, sm

      1. lmao – you know that was the one thing I just never expected – that you’d be into table tennis as well. It just never occurred to me that apartment buildings could have rec rooms like that. Doh. I think ours just have laundries. 🙂 So what you need is a house with a HUGE garage for the table. Think how much you’d save in gym memberships!

        lol -hugs- Meeks

  14. Interesting topic. I never let my kids win, they have to beat me fair and square. Now, that doesn’t mean that we are always in competition. For instance, if I’m running with my daughter, we’re just out running, we’re not racing. But, if she challenges me, I’m game and if she wins, she knows she earned it. I think earning the win is so much more important than the win itself.

    1. jm, i’m just impressed you run with your daughter!! lol. i can’t get wifesy to run for anything. but, we do other types of working out and i’m not saying that in any kind of entendre way! but, i’m with you to earn a legitimate and real win is worth 10,000 freebies. it truly is. much love, sm

  15. I think for the win or lose strategy you have to have a competitive kid. Neither I nor my daughter are competitive so we just have fun playing. There’s a game called Bananagrams which is like Scrabble, but with no points. We laugh at who can come up with the most outlandish words (real or not). The most fun I had trying to teach her basketball (she was rather terrible) was showing her everything I did wrong in middle school. I guess there is value to the whole win-lose thing, but I try to facilitate other types of esteem-building experiences, with a particular emphasis on learning to laugh, especially at ourselves. I’m guessing boys are different…

    1. i read or heard somewhere that, ‘boys bond bloody,’ which to me said a lot. they need to beat the crap out of themselves or things? i don’t know. the gender thing is difficult because some girls will love being competitive (i did and i wasn’t the only one) and some won’t. same for boys. my brother didn’t really like competitive sports for example. there is merit in understanding how to handle and grow from a loss, though, i think. i also hear you, thought, that laughing at our selves and not taking a win or loss so to hear, also has its value. hell, i laugh at everything. so, i know the value in that. it’s a tough one, but it sounds to me like your kid is just fine. 😉 much love, sm

  16. wow…i think i learned something new from you today… the whole idea of not letting a kid win by giving up the game because he wont learn and be competitive and put in efforts…so true…

    2-3 months back when i went for a family wedding, like always, i was busy taking care of family kids..most of my cousins are older and married and have kids who love im always busy with the kids when visiting my cousins….i was playing with 3 of them, throwing ball at them and letting them catch and throw it back at me…Sweet Mom i played so lame i dropped almost every catch and gave them the slowest and simplest catch…i was trying to entertain them and make them feel good because they were all tiny little kids…

    1. there’s merit in that too, though, lil miss. being gentle with the wee ones, i think it also helps. when they get a touch older though…beat ’em and beat ’em good. loool. xo, sm

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