To Lose or Not to Lose? Board Game Strategies for Playing with Kids

family playing board game together

Guest Post from Ellen Notbohm, author of Ten Things Every Child With Autism Wishes You Knew, 3rd edition (2019).

Playing board games is a great way to have fun and bond as a family. But any game begs the question: do you let your kids win so they feel good about themselves and stay interested, or do you play fair–and win sometimes–at the risk of discouraging them?

Before you stack the deck for the next round of Candyland, keep reading for some helpful pointers below.

The following is an excerpt from 1001 Great Ideas for Teaching and Raising Children with Autism and Asperger’s, 2nd edition (2010) by Ellen Notbohm and Veronica Zysk:

Winning Isn’t Everything

Should you let your child win at games you play together? Let the debate begin!

In this corner, the naysayers: letting kids win sets them up for failure and humiliation when they play with peers, it sends the message that winning is more important than fun, it deprives them of the opportunity to learn to lose gracefully.

And in the opposite corner, the advocates: adults have an unfair advantage, so letting the kids win evens the field, a child who loses every time will become discouraged and give up playing.

And in yet another corner–the gray area: isn’t there a difference between games of luck, like Candyland, and games of skill, like checkers or basketball? What if you only let them win sometimes? How often? What if you catch them cheating?

Make the whole debate moot for your child. If he is losing all the time, you are not playing the right games.

  • Choose only games appropriate to your child’s developmental age, which may not be the same as his chronological age. When he has the skill set necessary for the game, he will win some of the time without you having to decide whether to throw the game.
  • Choose games of luck, which statistically give your child as much chance to win as any other player.
  • You can give your child a handicap or head start, and be upfront in your explanation of why you are doing it. “I’ve played this game a lot and you haven’t, so you should go first and take two turns to start.”
  • Choose games that are fun regardless of who wins.
  • Play games in teams of two. Your child gets the benefit of discussing strategy and decision-making with a peer model or adult, which is not only a valuable learning experience, but it automatically softens a game loss. This is also a low-key way to introduce your child to games that are the next step up the developmental ladder for him.
  • Play cooperative games, where all players work together for a common goal emphasizing participation and fun over competition and winning. Plug the phrase “cooperative games” into your internet search engine to find games with subject matter that will appeal to your child.
  • You don’t feel obliged to finish reading a boring book; don’t feel obligated to finish a game just because you started it. If your child is tired, bored, getting too frustrated, or otherwise not getting anything beneficial out of the game, fold it up. Many’s the Scrabble game Ellen’s family started where they ended up having more fun complaining about their terrible letters, making up funky nonsense words, thumb-flipping the tiles back into the box, and heading to the kitchen for ice cream.

Excerpted from 1001 Great Ideas for Teaching and Raising Children with Autism and Asperger’s, 2nd edition (2010) by Ellen Notbohm and Veronica Zysk.

Available in English, German, Chinese, Portuguese, Turkish, Polish, Hungarian, and Lithuanian

Final Thoughts from Amy

We are so grateful for Ellen’s wisdom in this classic parenting dilemma.

If you ever struggle with the backtalk or sibling rivalry that seems to be fueled by family game time, trust me, you aren’t alone.

I’ve helped thousands of families find peace in their homes, so they can actually enjoy this special time together.

If you’re tired of your home feeling like a battlefield, I’d love for you to join me for a FREE ONLINE CLASS.

In one hour, I’ll teach you how to get your kids to listen–no nagging, yelling, or reminding required!

As always, I’m wishing you all the best on your parenting journey, and I’m here if you ever need anything!

Title image: Diane C Macdonald/Shutterstock

About the Author

Ellen Notbohm headshotEllen Notbohm’s Ten Things Every Child with Autism Wishes You Knew, 3rd edition (2019), is the Winner of the Grand Prize for Instruction and Insight and First Place in Psychology, Chanticleer International Book Awards.

She’s also written Ten Things Your Student with Autism Wishes You Knew, 2nd edition (2022) (New release), and co-authored 1001 Great Ideas for Teaching and Raising Children with Autism or Asperger’s, 2nd edition (2010).

You can find more information about Ellen and her work at

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