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Cheating to Win
Mom with a View

Cheating to Win

Do our kids realize that losing is not the worst thing to happen? Do we?


I noticed a pattern recently. For some reason I’ve had occasion to visit a number of different friends who still have young children in the house – 8 and under. And for some reason (completely unexplained since I’m not really a kids person!) I’ve ended up playing games with them. In every case, without exception, the rules kept changing as we played – with one goal in mind – to ensure that my young companion won.

At first I excused it. Maybe they’re too young to understand the actual rules. Maybe it’s just more fun to make them up as you go. But the pattern continued – in every home, with every child – the intelligent and the less so, the hyperactive and the calm, the obedient and the defiant. They all – not to put too fine a point on it – cheated.

Is their sense of self so fragile that they can’t endure losing?

I could be overreacting. This could just be the way of small children, something they’ll simply outgrow. Maybe. Hopefully. But I felt uncertain. Has winning become so important that our children believe they need to win at all costs? Is their sense of self so fragile that they can’t endure losing?

If this is true, we’re in trouble and all of us – parents, educators, grandparents, aunts, uncles – need to work together to put a stop to this destructive trend.

It’s not that I minded losing; my prowess at basketball and checkers are not vital components of my sense of self-worth. But don’t laugh. There are adults who are so competitive (read: needy and insecure) that they can’t bear to lose, even to their own children. A close friend of mine told me that he stopped playing chess with his father because his father’s tantrums upon losing outweighed any pleasure in the game. What message did his children get about winning?

I feel like our society has turned into a circus arcade where we should just “step right up” because “everyone’s a winner here.” Nothing could be worse than losing…

In imparting this lesson, we are robbing our children of some important and possibly definitive life experiences – of accomplishing on their own (without rigging the outcome) and accepting the appropriate consequences and of learning through failure. We grow from winning, but we can even grow more from losing, from picking ourselves up and starting again, from being unafraid to take risks for growth even if we sometimes stumble. You can be a mediocre skier who never falls going down the hill. Or you can be a great one who had to take a lot of tumbles to get there (note the spectacular wipe-outs in the recent Sochi Olympics).

In a possible twist of irony (or not), Pierre de Coubertin, the International Olympics Committee founder said “The most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle.”

Do winners recognize this? Gracious losers certainly do.

It’s not too late for today’s children. But it’s up to us to change the message: “It’s about the effort.” “As long as you try your best.” “Being a mensch is more important than winning.” “In fact, being a mensch is the most important.”

Most self-aware parents know this to be true. But do we mean it when we say it? And are we living it ourselves?

If we want to provide the best future for our children we need to determine who we are first: winners or decent human beings? And what do we really want for our kids?

March 1, 2014

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Visitor Comments: 5

(5) Susan Anne Woolley, March 5, 2014 4:47 PM

No cheating & learning that failure isn't the end

If a child is permitted to cheat in a simple board-game, they get the message that, if you can't win by fair means, it's OK to cheat. So what happens when they're sitting school exams? What happens when they enter the adult world? If it's not OK for Olympic athletes to cheat, then it's not OK to cheat at a simple family board game. Cheating is wrong...full stop.
What we should be teaching children is how to accept failure & losing with good grace, that it isn't the end of the world. They need to learn that real competition is NOT about winning or competing with others. It's really about competing with ourselves - ask any athlete.
That's what builds self-confidence & resilience.

(4) zvi, March 5, 2014 2:13 AM

perhaps you ARE overreacting

when I was 5 I made up a game whose rules changed so I won. but, I realized I could not control all games and cheating in a game with particular rules is short-sighted. So far one of my kids has learned to be a gracious winner because we teach that losing with respect is winning. But he does cheat when he gets the chance and I often pretend not to see. Other kids will not be so "generous" to him so that will put my son back on track as well.

(3) Pam Webber, March 4, 2014 8:33 PM

I tried to send an email of an article I enjoyed reading, but I could not send it to my inbox. It was about the children cheating.
I tried several times, but could not send it.

(2) Eric, March 4, 2014 2:05 PM


My eldest daughter was about 5 years old and we were playing a board game. She rolled the die to a 4, but sneaked in an ekstra move and thought she'd gotten away with it. When her sister said 'hey! you're cheating!' I agreed. So I asked if someone does this, taking one more than they were alloted, which commandment would they be breaking? The prohibition against stealing - taking the last move that isn't yours. My little girl thought about it for a second or two, then replied 'I'd never thought of it like that before.' She hasn't done it since - 5 years now. I'm very proud of her - and her sister who spoke out. Thanks to HaShem for them both.

(1) Renee, March 3, 2014 7:59 PM

Cheating is sad...

I agree that cheating is terrible and that parents and educators need to make an effort to help stamp it out. But I dissagree with Mrs. Braverman's assertion that "losing" is good for the psyche. It's true that "competitive" people are needy and insecure. The reasonable solution to this problem is to eliminate competition--not glorify losing. The "everyone's a winner" mentality only makes sense in a competitive culture. If Mrs. Braverman had guided her young opponents into a different non-competitive form of play (so they could be friends instead of opponents!) there would have been no need to cheat because there would be no concern that in order for one person to be a "winner" someone else has to be a "loser." Many people mistakenly believe that competition is inevitable--in fact it's a highly artificial and unhealthy element of our culture (most cultures do have some competitive elements but not usually to the extreme that Americans take it). Alfie Kohn wrote a book on this subject called No Contest. It's a modern classic and I reccomend it highly. (Anyone who believes that competition is healthy really needs to read this book--even if you don't think you'll change your opinion you ought to be aware of the alternative viewpoint and the mountains of evidence that support it.)

Since you are likely to find more opportunities to play with children (and grown-ups!) Mrs. Braverman, you might want to borrow some books on non-competitive play from your library.

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