Letting Preschoolers Win May Backfire

New research suggests letting your preschooler win at games does not build self-confidence and in fact may be detrimental.

Amherst College researchers discovered that when young kids experience “illusory success” related to a particular task, their ability to formulate and act on judgments they make about their own performance suffers.

As a result, the children may become conditioned to ignore valuable information they could use in future decision-making, according to a study coauthored by Dr. Carrie Palmquist and former student Ashleigh Rutherford.

The research article appears in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology.

The paper explains the results of a series of experiments in which four and five year-olds were asked to play a hiding game with objects, in which two adult “experimenters” offered them clues. One experimenter gave accurate clues; the other gave inaccurate ones.

Investigators then manipulated the game for half of the children so that no matter where the kids looked, they always found the hidden objects. The successes of the remaining children were left to chance, meaning that the kids were more likely to find the hidden objects with the helpful adult than the unhelpful one.

After the games, the scientists asked their young research subjects which of the two people they would like to ask for help in finding additional hidden objects.

“Kids who had been in the rigged version of the game showed no preference for the previously helpful person,” said Palmquist. “In fact, they didn’t even think of her as having been helpful.”

The kids who were in the unrigged version showed a clear preference for the helpful person.

“When children were extremely successful, they seemed to ignore otherwise relevant cues as to who would be a better source of information,” Palmquist said.

“This is important for two reasons. First, it suggests that children may not be as savvy as previous research has suggested.

“Second, it suggests that in the real world, when children experience a great deal of success on a task — mom or dad always letting them win at a game, for example — they may become less aware of important information that they could use to learn about the world, because they see it as less relevant to their future success.”

Source: Amherst College/Newswise