When it comes to playing games -- especially board games -- with toddlers, I've always followed C3-PO's advice to R2-D2 as they played space chess or whatever that game was on the Millennium Falcon: Let the Wookiee win.

No, a 3-year-old can't tear your arms out of their sockets like a furry brute from Kashyyyk, but with the right meltdown, they can inflict far worse damage on your day and your psyche.

But as time passed I began to wonder if kids from a young age need to know what it feels like to lose (in the long run we all taste it too much anyway, so no worries there). Everyone ought to be able to keep their composure, to pat the winner on the back, to regroup and try again. And eventually I get sick of getting my Battleship sunk.

But of course you let the kid win. What kind of sick competitive freak would do their best to shove a loss down a toddler's throat? (I'll bet Michael Jordan did.)

Even games that are pretty much pure luck like Candyland and Sorry, the kid can make choices so dumb it can actually be hard to make yourself lose, and it takes special extra effort. Poke around the Internets and you'll find parents are all over the place on this, but most think losing has its place.

At Families.com Kori Rodley Irons, whose great-grandmother constantly beat her at marbles when she was young, says that letting your child have the occasional small victory at Chutes and Ladders can help the power balance, since come mealtime and bedtime they have to let you win.

Gina Roberts-Grey at ChildrenToday.com has a long, thoughtful take on the topic that has this cautionary quote from a soccer coach:

You can tell if a child's parents shield them from losing, they are deeply disappointed if they aren't first or lose a game. They don't handle the loss as well as other kids.

Do you really want that to be your kid? Maybe you should kick it past them and dunk over them a little bit more.

One suggestion: I know the first time I decided, "screw it, I'm sick of losing, for once she's going to be the one who's Sorry" I just decided to make a huge show of excitement when I won. I ran up and down the stairs hooting and whooping, I opened the windows and shouted "I won!" out into the street, hugged everyone in the house and popped a sparkling water bottle like it was champagne. The kid just giggled and enjoyed it. She could tell I was proud to have beaten her, like it was a big accomplishment. Yes, this may have been a terrible lesson on ungracious winning for the long haul, but who thinks about tomorrow?

Of course there's always games like Duck, Duck, Goose and tag that don't really have winners, where pure enjoyment is the name of the game. The problem there is they also don't really have endings. So you may be stuck for a while. Make that forever.

Do you let your always let your kid win at games, or make them taste bitter defeat sometimes?


Image via JeremyStockwell/Flickr