I’ve been pondering which is the best parenting approach when playing a game with my kids: Let them win, go easy on them, or play to the best of your ability and let them rise to the challenge.

The other day, bowling with Shaya, we were having such fun until I scored several strikes in a row. Now to be fair, we had the bumpers up for his sake, and I’m sure it gave my game a boost. 

But his face changed from pure elation at playing with mom on some great alone time to pouty poor sportsman frown. I warned my little guy that if he was going to be a sour puss whenever he didn’t win, that I wouldn’t want to play with him.

The second game, I started out with a strike – it wasn’t my fault, I swear! If I could do that every time, believe me I would. He didn’t really notice – he was so fascinated with the vending machine behind us.

And then he scratched his finger on something and it started to bleed, so my score mattered little. I roused his spirit to soldier on with the game and, I admit, I went really easy on him to make him feel better.

It didn’t sit well with me.

I believe teaching kids that everyone’s a winner is an unfair lie that cushions life for them so they are ill-prepared to handle it when the going truly does get tough. I have bright kids, for whom many things come easy – shouldn’t they know how to rise to a challenge, work for their accomplishments?

Losing or scoring lower than you’d hoped, that builds character. It happens to us adults all the time even still – and we’re not falling apart in the street.

So Asher and I play Words with Friends, and I faced the same question about whether to do my best or not when playing my child. Of course, my ego isn’t so fragile that I need to beat my 10-year-old. 

But I know from experience that when I play better tennis players, my game improves. And when I face beginners, my game limps along.

So what to do when facing my son in a game of the intellect?

“It’s just a game Mommy,” he assured me.

So I gave it my all. And I have to admit, I scored some pretty nice ones, using the double word and triple letter to my advantage. Which you’d think would be a teachable moment for my opponent – after all, that’s how I improved my game, by watching the strategic moves of opponents who creamed me.

That night, I signed on to see what my next move was and there was an email from Ashie. “Mommy, could you please go easy on me?”

Harumph.

I faced this same inevitable question once again. Teachable moment? Mother with love? A mixture of the two?

Then he got a 50-something word on his next move and took the lead. “You don’t have to go easy on me anymore,” he said.

The conversation was over, at least between my 10-year-old and me. But it’s not over in my head. I still don’t know the answer. I still believe it builds character to not let kids have it so easy.

And yet, it’s just a game.

Isn’t everything?

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