Should you play games with a toddler that they're very good at and always win?

dannemp 08/16/2017. 4 answers, 13.175 views
toddler toys games

I have been reading the Should you let a toddler win question and it appears to be a bad thing to let a child always win.

I have been playing the memory cards game (where you have to find two identical cards from a board of unknown ones) with my 3 years old nephew and his dad. I guess children have better visual memory and adults better associative one, but the thing is my nephew wins 95% of the time. We just can't possibly beat him at that game.

He has other games that are more based on luck and that we can play with equal chances, but sometimes he wants to play only the memory game as he is always winning.

It is not really a problem as his parents can attract his attention to other games but I was wondering if a situation like this is somewhat different to those described in the question I mentioned, as we don't cheat to let the kid win, he is just really good at it. Will it have the same consequences as letting a child win on purpose?

5 Comments
11 Pål GD 08/16/2017
Coincidentally, my colleague just explained during lunch a couple of weeks ago that there is one game he can't beat his 6 years old son in: memory.
10 corsiKa 08/16/2017
Welp, time to get him playing settlers and magic the gathering, I guess. If you've got a natural, might as well cultivate that talent!
10 Strawberry 08/17/2017
Only play games you know can you win. Humiliation is an important lesson, and one best learnt young.
15 dannemp 08/17/2017
@Strawberry You have some questionable views...
5 Steve-O 08/17/2017
I think the philosophy about not always letting a child win applies mainly to situations where they wouldn't win, but you deliberately throw the game so they do. That's bad because it prioritizes the idea of winning over the idea of learning to play well and leaves the child ill-prepared for times when he does fail in the future. However, if we're talking about a situation where the child really is that good and always wins I don't think there's any harm in letting him. The key is that he should be earning his victories, not having them given to him on a silver platter, so to speak.

4 Answers


Erik 08/16/2017.

If the child really enjoys the game, what you need to do is not making him stop playing it. Teaching kids that they're not supposed to win at things, or play things they are good at, is just as bad as teaching them they can win anything they try. The problem with letting them win is that it skews their idea of how good they are, and how much opposition they will have when trying out new things.

In this case, the kid is just good at the game and winning fairly. What you should do is either practice the game yourself (so you become more of a match for him. That might even teach him about practice, except from the other end) or you need to find him better opposition.

(Also, you might want to try and find out why a 3 year old is better at Memory than you are. Either your nephew is very clever, or you have some kind of memory issue.)

5 comments
51 Pere 08/16/2017
The last line makes a good point, but an alternative to having a memory issue is not being paying enough attention to the game. In that kind of games, taking the game seriously is more important than being clever, and a child enjoying and winning the game is likely to be paying all his attention to it.
23 Erik 08/16/2017
@Pere I've found that I kind defeat my kids at memory quite trivially, even when not paying a lot of attention, and I don't have very good memory. It might just be a case of not paying attention, but it shouldn't be that hard to keep up with the memory of a 3 year old, even without full focus. Whatever it is; I think OP should think about why they're losing. There might be something going on there.
8 Becuzz 08/16/2017
@Erik There is certainly something going on here, but it may not be a problem with the adults. Some kids are just good at certain things. For instance, when I was 4 I could give my mom a run for her money at playing Dr. Mario (and she's no slouch at that game, she can still hold her own against any of us now that we are older). I know Dr. Mario isn't the same as Memory, but some kids just have an aptitude for certain things. Maybe this kid has a photographic memory or is just good at spacial things.
2 dannemp 08/16/2017
Thank you for the answer, I may have exaggerated my 95% to emphasize my point, and it is true that I did not fully focus on the game, as I was speaking with his father at the same time. In my question I was just interested in whether it was beneficial for the kid to always win at a game or not, which you have answered successfully.
9 Erik 08/16/2017
@dannemp if you were exaggerating, then probably you can ignore the last part ;) I was just a bit worried, that's all.

supercat 08/16/2017.

I would suggest teaching the child the concept of handicapping. An approach I've found helpful with some other games is to say that every time someone wins, they have to start with one more card [or do something to make things more difficult] in the next game; if they lose, they get to start with one fewer card. After awhile, each player will be winning about half the time and losing about half the time; their relative skill can be judged by the amount of handicap needed to make that happen.

An important point about handicapping is that it's not designed to punish the winner, but is instead designed to allow both players to have more fun. Being able to win 50% of the time while starting with a major disadvantage may be much more noteworthy than being able to win 99% of the time with balanced starting conditions.

1 comments
2 Fez Vrasta 08/17/2017
Basically the same concept behind most of the difficulty increase mechanism the child will find in any videogame he will ever play in his life. While you get better in the game, the difficulty raises.

Evargalo 08/16/2017.

I have also noticed that young children are remarkably good at Memory games, although 95% of wins against adults is very impressive.

A small trick (beside concentration) can improve your results though: instead of displaying all the card in a messy way on the table, dispose them in regular rows and files. Your adult brain often works with tables and grids, your nephew's excellent spatial memory doesn't yet. When you will try to memorize where is the card you just turned, instead of "the rabbit is rather on the left, near the bottom", you will remember much better "the rabbit is on the third file, fifth row", or even "rabbit, C5".

That should make your chances much better. It may even help your nephew to start apprehending geometric patterns (lines and rows) as well... But of course, there is also a chance that he will insist to play again with cards in a mess, especially if his winning rate is much better that way !

5 comments
3 dannemp 08/16/2017
These tips are useful, but unfortunately this was not the point of my question)
9 R.M. 08/16/2017
@dannemp There is a question-relevant point embedded in there, though. One drawback of "letting them win" is that they're not being challenged. Playing a game they can easily win can be similar. Oliver's suggestion to alter the game slightly such that they are more challenged is a good one. The child can be happy playing the game they like, and you're happy because they're being challenged.
15 Delioth 08/16/2017
Wait, people don't always arrange the cards in neat lines? I even lined them up nicely when I was very small, you can't play games with randomly scattered cards [exception: Go Fish].
4 Tas 08/16/2017
+1 while this doesn't really answer the question it does supplement the accepted answer nicely to continue playing this game, but find ways to challenge him further.
1 Evargalo 08/18/2017
@akostadinov : yes, this is part of the great plan to format children's brains. That plan bears several code names, such as 'education' and 'parenting'. Joke aside, your critics could lead to an interesting debate, but this is not the place.

mephisto 08/18/2017.

He's good at it, so make the game more difficult to grow that part of his brain. He'll still beat you, but he'll like the challenge. Find a bigger set with more pairs, or different symbols, or both. Anything at your local car boot sale for that ?

2 comments
Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen 08/20/2017
Or pair images with words. Teach him to read :)
Weckar E. 08/21/2017
@ThorbjørnRavnAndersen That may be extremely frustrating for the kid, as matching non-identical pieces requires VERY different mental skills (whether it involves reading or not).

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