Parenting matters :: Is telling kids winning doesn’t matter a lie?

Parenting :: Should we tell kids it doesn't matter if they win or lose?I have debated this with loads of friends of mine, and even my own husband – its a topic that bugs me big time.

I used to be an instructor in the martial arts industry and after watching countless parents berate their children when they didn’t win or come up tops, I promised myself I would make sure my child knew that it wasn’t all about winning, life is about taking part, loving what you do and doing it your best potential. But is it? In a modern society is life really about taking part, because if that is the case why do we keep score?

My husband is a sports fanatic – he is borderline obsessive, in fact he’s tripped, skipped and hopped over the border to full blown obsessive. It is his belief that winning is important and a drive to win is essential for growing up – please don’t misunderstand me, he isn’t the asshole that will berate his child for not winning but he thinks that going out with the attitude that it is important to win is a good thing. I disagree. I feel that I should instil in the boys that it doesn’t matter if they win as long as they try their hardest and take part to the best of their abilities… so, am I setting them up for failure?

I recently came across an article about what lies we tell our kids by Dr Chuck Borsellino and he said that “Parents are missing the mark if they teach their kids that score doesn’t matter.  It does.” He also states that we should encourage children to “keep one eye on their character, one eye on their competence, and one eye on the scoreboard.” I get that he is trying to encourage parents to find a balance, but I can’t help but feel that there is plenty of time for that as children grow up, why burden them with the attitude that they need to win now?

I am a very competitive person, I like to win, but who doesn’t? I constantly try to better myself and ensure that I succeed at what I do – and I absolutely hate failing. I was never pushed as child though or taught that winning is essential, just that I should try my best and accept that sometimes I’m not going to succeed and that is ok, I just have to keep trying. Is this drive to win or to succeed just something that we develop as we become more aware of the world around us? It goes without saying that in the every day life of an adult, coming up trumps is important, for example – you succeed at work, you might get that promotion that will give you more money, you will be able to save more and possibly buy a bigger house or do something as a family that costs extra cash.

In all other aspects of life I try to tell Reuben the truth, I’m just like every other parent the odd little fib will slip out (When was the last time you pulled out the old, ‘ Yes, we’re nearly there’ when you’re 40 minutes from home?!), but I am generally really careful not to lie… so am I a hypocrite in this aspect? I think so, but I also don’t think I mind.

What do you do with your kids when it comes to this parenting crossroad? Do you think that it is important to tell them that they should aim to win at everything they do, or do you remind them that it is important to try your best and learn to cope with failure ( as that really is an important part of life isn’t it?).

Harriet x


  1. Avatar April 18, 2016 / 10:15 am

    It’s a tricky one isn’t it. Both Andy and I are super competitive and sporty so like your husband we always encourage Jack to try his best to win BUT he’s very aware that winning isn’t the be-all and end-all and it’s ok to come second/third/last as long as he’s tried his best. I do think it’s bonkers though that some schools now don’t publicise scores from matches in case children get offended! x

  2. Avatar April 17, 2016 / 3:52 am

    My baby is only 6 months old, so I haven’t come to this parenting hurdle yet, but as a child I was fiercely competitive but sadly with not very much sporting talent. It was a really challenging combo and led to me spending a lot of my childhood feeling that I wasn’t good enough and having quite low self esteem. It’s tricky though, because as you say, in many ways, life is about winning and I think we do have to encourage our children to strive for success and to have a bit if a competitive edge, but without it resulting in them feeling bad about themselves when someone else beats then at something. I hope that I can teach my little bear to compete against herself; that if she does better this time than she did last time, even if she was last to cross the finish line, or her story didn’t get read out in assembly or whatever, then she’s still a success.

  3. Avatar April 14, 2016 / 10:09 am

    Give the kids the feeling of victory in the simplest way and it wil serve as their inspiration. Balance is the key! Teach the true meaning of winning. 🙂

  4. Avatar April 13, 2016 / 3:57 pm

    I’m not a parent so I can’t comment from that point of view, but, I believe winning is important and that should always be the goal to which you strive. However, it is not the be all and end all – the experience needs to be used and learned upon. It is vital however that children are not scared of loosing otherwise they may not want to take part at all.

  5. Avatar April 13, 2016 / 9:18 am

    Im pretty laid back tbh, and have the general feeling of ‘ as long as they’ve enjoyed what they’ve done’ is all that matters! Im sure as they get older they will either grow themselves to be competitive or not. 🙂

  6. Avatar April 12, 2016 / 4:20 pm

    Whilst my children are young I’m emphasising that it’s taking part that counts, plenty of time to get competitive when they’re older.

    • Harriet April 13, 2016 / 10:52 am

      I think I would lean towards that too Jenny 🙂

  7. Avatar April 12, 2016 / 3:29 pm

    I haven’t got children but I do have nieces and nephews and I know it is the taking part which counts… but if there are no goals to aim for, like winning or doing the absolute best you can do, I often wonder where the aspiration will come from x

  8. Avatar April 12, 2016 / 1:31 pm

    I’m with your husband on this, although maybe not as extreme. But it’s certainly hard to get the balance right. I’m mega competitive (aided by a competitive brother as well), vs parents who weren’t, they weren’t sporty, musical, etc, but both of us ended up being good at both and wanting to win. My mum certainly encouraged us and celebrated winning, but I don’t recall her telling us that it was all about winning or just the taking part. We just decided for ourselves (and obviously pushed by coaches and teachers) to improve, work hard, reap the benefits. And of course we wanted to win and be the best.

    In contrast, N seems to be the least competitive person out. He likes running races with his cousin, and likes to play games and win against me, but sports day last year, he told me the night before ‘I won’t win mummy, because I don’t run fast’. My heart sank, and I wondered what to say because to me it’s about wanting to try, to beat yourself and try to win. On the day he was enjoying it, he was joining in and he was running fast…for him. But he didn’t even collect the medals they were handing out – rewards don’t seem to spur him on. I’m hoping the urge to win comes this year at school (although he’ll be in a class with a lot of other boys vs only 3 girls – lucky them, great chance of being placed!).

    I think competition and winning is important to recognise for every child as long as they learn to be gracious winners and losers, learn that it takes hard work and/or talent, a bit of luck, and that there’s also things to be learnt from not winning. Because if N doesn’t end up being a child who’s a winner but is middle ground, then I want him to know that it’s worth trying to win because he’ll learn and improve.

  9. Avatar April 12, 2016 / 10:54 am

    I don’t have any of my own but If I had to tell that to a child of mine in the future about winning and losing. I would say do it for yourself nobody else. Do what best for you and winning it’s just an extra but losing is never a bad thing. You can progress further and take it as a lesson to do better next time.

  10. Avatar April 12, 2016 / 10:49 am

    I’m not overly fussed if my kids win at the competitions they enter, or whether they are top of their class. I am more concerned with the effort they put in and the attitude they adopt to taking part. I think that comes from being a West Ham fan lol. Never expect to win, but always expect 100% effort!

  11. Avatar April 12, 2016 / 10:17 am

    It really is a tricky one to try and work around. I made sure my children knew to try their very best, sometimes they win… other times they lose. It was even harder with twins as they are naturally competitive!

  12. Avatar April 12, 2016 / 9:18 am

    ah I was never sporty at all.. it fact i was always the last one to be picked for teams in PE.. i think encouragement for us is important.. and letting kids know its ok to lose too.. that they did really well any way… i think the worst thing is for parents to show disappointment when a child losses .. that stuff stay with you!!

  13. Avatar April 12, 2016 / 1:02 am

    I agree we don’t need to be winners all the time. I was brought up thinking I had to be successful all the time and it is exhausting.

  14. Avatar April 12, 2016 / 12:55 am

    I think understand that they won’t succeed at everything is important. Important to emphasise the point of trying their best. Their best might win a gold medal but if it doesn’t, thats ok x

  15. Avatar April 12, 2016 / 12:04 am

    I’ll be teaching my children that it’s not all about winning, although you will want to win as that’s human nature. As in life they won’t always win at things, but as long as they have tried their best, that is what matters xx

  16. Avatar April 11, 2016 / 11:47 pm

    I will teach my kids to do their best and aim for the top every time. I am very competitive when it comes to academics and sports. I will like to see them at the top every time so I am setting the bar very high.

  17. Avatar April 11, 2016 / 10:34 pm

    I always tell my niece and nephews that it’s more important that you know you’ve tried your best, if they win, then that’s a great bonus. So the conclusive answer to your ultimate question is NO, it’s not lying. 🙂

    Oliver •

  18. Avatar April 11, 2016 / 10:23 pm

    It seems like there’s a balance. I just never wanted my kids to feel like they should give up if they didn’t win first place.

  19. Avatar April 11, 2016 / 10:18 pm

    I think it’s fine to be ambitious and to want to win, as long as you can accept loss as well, and don’t act like a sore loser!

  20. Avatar April 11, 2016 / 10:14 pm

    I think competitiveness is good but learning to lose and win gracefully is the most important thing

  21. Avatar April 11, 2016 / 9:57 pm

    ohh.. feel like I pressed send too quickly on my last post and it came across sounding like I think I’m a super chilled out zen person (I wish I were but I’m not). I am not saying it’s always bad to be competitive, just that it does have it’s downside too and that teaching a child to enjoy things winning or losing isn’t a lie but a great life skill.

  22. Avatar April 11, 2016 / 9:53 pm

    This was an interesting post. I think there are some things i will tell my kids that all they have to do is try their BEST and don’t get sad if they don’t achieve as there is so much more to life. I will encourage them to do what they want. Such as sports day, kids games etc i will always say winning isnt everything!

  23. Avatar April 11, 2016 / 9:03 pm

    I’m not a mum so can’t talk from experience, but it’s definitely important for kids to know that winning isn’t the be-all and end-all, doing your best is what counts.

  24. Avatar April 11, 2016 / 9:01 pm

    I’m a take part parent, winning isn’t everything. My little girl still gets upset if she doesn’t win but I try my best to comfort and explain it’s all part of the game and to do her best. It’s hard explaining it to such little people. She’ll succeed in what other will fail and vice versa, and that’s okay.

  25. Avatar April 11, 2016 / 8:46 pm

    As none of us are sporty and would rarely win any races, I have always told my children it is the taking part that is important. And to try their very best – that is all anyone can ask of them. I think this applies to all areas of life too. Kaz x

  26. Avatar April 11, 2016 / 7:00 pm

    As someone who has issues with failure – I definitely think making sure children understand it happens and that is OK is a big thing. x

  27. Avatar April 11, 2016 / 4:14 pm

    I think it’s important that they understand they can’t always win. Busby currently thinks she wins everything, from eating her lunch to getting to the front door, even though she doesn’t always finish first!!! She won’t take “no you haven’t won” for an answer though 😉 xx

    • Harriet April 11, 2016 / 6:27 pm

      The boys are the same Hannah – they think everything is a competition but we always have a meltdown if they don’t win… not good at all!!

  28. Avatar April 11, 2016 / 3:20 pm

    I teach my children to do their best but still protect them from hurt. Jack knows he won’t always win and he sort of understands that

    • Harriet April 11, 2016 / 6:27 pm

      That’s a good way to do it Rebecca!

  29. Avatar April 11, 2016 / 2:47 pm

    I have always taught my Daughter to try her best, as long as she has tried that is all that matters, and that no one can be the best at everything, we all have our strengths and weaknesses.

    • Harriet April 11, 2016 / 6:27 pm

      That’s what I think 🙂

  30. Avatar April 11, 2016 / 2:17 pm

    This is a really difficult one – lots of things, as you say, are set up to have winners and losers and I don’t always like that idea for small children. I think maybe it’s something that changes as they get a bit older and I’ve realised, as my girls have gotten older, that it’s important for them to fail sometimes so that we can have that discussion. Maybe whatever it is they have attempted doesn’t suit their abilities or they weren’t interested or others were just better than them. It’s more about negotiating around that feeling of losing I guess so that it doesn’t affect their self-confidence. And I’d always encourage kids to do their absolute best but at the same time, not make them feel like failures if it doesn’t work out.

  31. Avatar April 11, 2016 / 12:52 pm

    Oooh, this is a tough one, and something that I battled with for the 7 years that Lyle was playing tennis. I came to the conclusion that sometimes it’s OK to try and do your best, and that learning to fail is a really really important lesson. But ultimately, you need to be trying to win as well. But it’s hard…

  32. Avatar April 11, 2016 / 11:24 am

    I feel like when kids reach a certain age they probably start realising themselves that “winning” does matter more than perhaps their parents made them believe when they were younger. I think a child needs to discover this themselves though and if the parent tries to instill it in their child it could have a negative effect!

  33. Avatar
    April 11, 2016 / 11:09 am

    I’m no parent, but I am so competitive myself, I can’t imagine ever being able to say winning doesn’t matter to anyone. Ha! That being said, I’m glad my parents told me that as a kid. It didn’t ease the pain of losing, but it put it in perspective.

  34. Avatar April 11, 2016 / 11:03 am

    I don’t have kids so I don’t know how I would be when it comes to having my own but I think it’s important to be honest but let them want to win rather than telling them it’s important x

  35. Avatar April 11, 2016 / 10:45 am

    I think it’s a tough one, as if you just let them know that it’s only about taking part, then they might miss out on achieving things later in life because they never really tried enough. I think like with all things, there is a balance.

  36. Avatar April 11, 2016 / 10:37 am

    It’s a tricky one, isn’t it? You don’t want to apply pressure, neither due you want to lie to them so they are disillusioned later in life. A tight rope walk, as is most of parenting.

  37. Avatar April 11, 2016 / 10:27 am

    I guess it depends on the parents and the child too. My husband and I aren’t competitive at all, so it’s not surprising that my daughter isn’t either. But that doesn’t mean she isn’t a go-getter. She goes to gymnastics and plays the cello and likes to be good at it. She knows the importance of doing her best, but I think your’e right too. There’s no harm in reminding them once in a while to aim for a win! 😉

  38. Avatar April 11, 2016 / 9:24 am

    I tell mine that winning doesn’t matter, and I kind of believe it and kind of don’t if that makes sense! I don’t want them to feel pressured at a young age though which is probably why I say it.

  39. Avatar April 11, 2016 / 9:08 am

    I have yet to reach this stage yet with my girls. Apart from the odd lie which helps them feel safe and secure in life. I think it’s about balance and showing them both aspects x

  40. Avatar
    Georgina Arkle
    March 28, 2014 / 12:57 pm

    No it’s not wrong to try to protectect your child from hurt, unfortunately they also have to learn that sometimes they are not going to win, I always told my daughter, do the best you can, and if you do that, then your a winner anyway!

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