Appropriate at a kid’s party to have winners and losers?

A regular sent me a great note last week with a dilemma. She does a great job explaining it so here’s what she wrote:

“I’ve been thinking about it a lot because I’m planning a party soon for my soon-to-be-7-year-old.  It will be an outside party and I would like to include age appropriate games like a dizzy bat or hula hoop relay race, and a ring or bean bag toss.  I would like to give the winner a prize, but is that OK?”

“I took this same child to a party a few months ago and all the kids were divided into 2 teams and given 2 rolls of toilet paper to wrap one of their team members into a mummy.  The mom of the birthday girl said ‘Let’s see who can use all their toilet paper first!’,  then turned on music.  The kids wrapped, and one team was first.  And that was it.”

” It sure sounded to me like a set up for a prize, and I think some of the kids did too, but the game was done.  That mom is a big believer in ‘everyone’s a winner.’  I am not.  These kids are in first grade.  I think it’s OK at this point to introduce that idea that not everyone’s a winner, right?”

“I am not planning on great games of skill and strategy, and the stakes are not high; the prize will probably be just a piece of something plastic, so this will not scar the kids and send them to therapy in later life, will it?  I can’t have that on my conscience.  If this age is not appropriate, when can they play games where someone wins?”

The party is this weekend so this mom needs our help! Can she have games with winners, losers and prizes? At what age is this appropriate? Is something wrong in our society that we even have to wonder this?

97 comments Add your comment

New Stepmom

September 11th, 2009
10:19 am

sorry for the double post. user error ;o)!

YUKI

September 11th, 2009
10:20 am

That is a great example, New stepmom. I was a “T” and almost always last too. I hated it, but that was life. I agree, now some parents would probably call the teacher and complain about something so stupid. There is nothing worse than a whiney kid crying about something unimportant. I know certain things are important to kids, but if the parents teach them to complain about every little thing not going their way, then that is what happens. Ugh. My kid will never act like that if I have anything to say about it (not to mention his dad!)

New Stepmom

September 11th, 2009
10:20 am

deidre_NC, I do LOVE BBQ chips. Especially the kettle cooked ones. MMMM

Kat

September 11th, 2009
10:25 am

Do a pinata filled with candy and small toys – everyone “wins.” The one who breaks it is the winner for breaking it – and gets that feather in their cap, whereas all the others get first crack (pun intended) at the goodies because the blindfold is still on the winner.

John Rosemond

September 11th, 2009
10:27 am

Kids must learn that life is not a bowl of cherries, life is hard and not fair well before 1st grade. Preferably around age 3.

OK, diedre_NC...

September 11th, 2009
10:34 am

both YOU and mothejanegoose are banned!

Becky

September 11th, 2009
10:35 am

I see nothing wrong with giving a gift or prize to the smaller kids..Yes, when they are 7 or so, they do need to learn that not everyone is a winner..My two that are 7, also know that sometimes when I buy something for one of them, the other doesn’t always get something..

MJG & DB, enjoy y’alls lunch date..

Big mean people produce little mean people..

Whoever

September 11th, 2009
10:39 am

bans the most posters WINS!!!

Jen

September 11th, 2009
10:59 am

Theresa,

Sorry to be the Spelling Police but it’s “queue”, not “cue”.

A cue is a form of assistance.

A queue is a line, or an order of things…and sometimes it’s a ponytail.

Anyway…there can be winners and losers in party games as long as there is good sportsmanship.

Get It Right

September 11th, 2009
11:00 am

I’m with you, New Stepmom. I’m a W, also. I operate on the assumption that FAIR is a 4-letter word. When one of the grandkids complains about FAIR, I tell them to get used to it. The 6 year old has figured it out and doesn’t complain

SouthFultonMom

September 11th, 2009
11:07 am

Why are kids competing at a birthday party anyway?! I’ve given many birthday parties for my kids, but there was never any kind of competitive games. I’ve done pool parties, Chuck E. Cheese, Dixieland, Discovery Zone, Barbie parties, sleep overs, but none consisted of anything competitive. Yes, kids need to learn that they won’t win every time. But it’s the adults that are making a big deal out of this. I bet if you give them a kickball and tell them to go have a good time they would. Everything thing doesn’t have to be organized to the T. Give them the hula hoops and let them have fun but just being kids!

K8's Mom

September 11th, 2009
11:14 am

How about an index card that an adult marks each time a child tries one of the games…he/she tries all of the games, they get a prize. My daugher went to a party like this…she received a small stuffed bear for trying everything and succeeding at some of them. FYI, she snuggled with the bear last night…much better than a bag full of little plastic toys that get stuck in the vacuum cleaner! :)

My thought on birthday party games…it isn’t like soccer or basketball. I think with team sports they should learn the lesson of being a good winner or loser. Birthday parties shouldn’t be competitive!

Dad

September 11th, 2009
11:26 am

South Fulton mom is right. Why does a bday party have to be a competition. Just have fun. There are pleny of opportunities for kids to learn the lesson that not everyone wins every time, which I agree with. Having coached many soccer team, baseball teams, etc for both boys and girls, I can tell you, it’s the parents with the hang ups, not the kids. Stop pressuring your kids to “win” at everything to make yourself feel better. Even if your kid is the the star of the football, baseball, and basketball team, you will still be the same geek you were before you had kids. Let it go.

New Stepmom

September 11th, 2009
11:28 am

@ YUKI and Get it Right, too funny that you guys experienced the same end of the alphabet/end of the line treatment that I did ;o)! I swore for years I would marry someone with an “A” last name. I only moved up to “R.”

YUKI

September 11th, 2009
11:29 am

ME TOO! I’m an “R” now too! funny!

GrandmaOf8

September 11th, 2009
11:59 am

The fact that this question even needs to be asked speaks volumes. Mommies today have so many “guilt trips” laid on them, and this is surely one of the Biggies. Competition helps build character. Making an artificial “everyone is a winner” life for our children sets them up for confusion and depression when they get older. When “everyone is a winner” it creates a false assumption that you don’t have to work harder to get better at something.

A child needs to see competition as a healthy thing — not as an aggressive nature as some of you portray. Too many 20-somethings have the attitude today that they “deserve” a raise without hard work. They “deserve” a house even though they haven’t saved up for a down payment.

Get over the “everyon’s a winner” mentality! Kids’ self-esteem is actually strengthened when they work hard at something and are justifiably rewarded for their efforts. Seeing others “win” without any effort is actually what harms their self-esteem. They lose the desire to try harder.

Hunter of MILF's

September 11th, 2009
12:05 pm

Hello Ladies,

Is it not the job of a parent to each children how the world REALLY works? Giving a prize for winning is a good life lesson for them. After all if you do well in your chosen career are you not rewarded with a promotion or a pay increase? I’m just saying.

Hunter of MILF's

September 11th, 2009
12:08 pm

And that would be “teach” not “each” in the tenth word of my first sentence above….my bad.

Hunter of MILF's

September 11th, 2009
12:09 pm

@deidre_NC

Yes mean people suck, but nice people swallow…;)

Uconn

September 11th, 2009
12:26 pm

YUKI and New Stepmom… How funny, I also thought that same thing… I was a “P” and hated it… I was bound and determined to marry an “A”… In Feb I will marry a “C” … Ahhhh…. Moving up in the world! ;-)

Andrea

September 11th, 2009
1:10 pm

The problem is absolutely with the parents. That’s why birthday parties have now evolved into events that can cost upwards of a thousand dollars! Whatever happened to playing pin the tail on the donkey? Oh – the kids started putting the tails on the parents!

I really think competitive sports and academic teams are wonderful. I just don’t think the competition needs to be at a birthday party. For the posters who say that by not having the competition, the kids are being sheltered – would it then be fair to say that those who insist on having competitions are so far gone that they can’t go to one single event that does not involve competition?

jack5656

September 11th, 2009
1:13 pm

I think whether to recognize the winners and loser depends on the circumstances.

A birthday party is to celebrate a birthday, and since the mom was going to give little plastic crappy toys that would be lost, broken, or ignored within a week anyhow, what is the point in recognizing the winners with prizes anyhow? Can’t the kids still be recognized without being given a prize? Seems to me that the prize (again, in the context of a the innocence of a birthday party) just piles on the losers more than rewarding winners.

Now when it comes to organized sports, thats a different story. I don’t think kids should be told to not do their best during a game. that’s just silly. I doubt though that there was no part of the game he could improve on. That’s what youth league is for, to learn the fundamentals. I coached a team where we had a superstar like that and he dominated the games so much that we decided to work on teaching him the importance (to him and to his teammates) of passing and getting the whole team involved. It was awesome. Instead of him scoring 10 points a game (they were 6 at the time), he would score 5 and he would get 5 assists to other kids on the team. Every situation is a learning opportunity..and frankly when the season started he was a great scorer, when the season ended he was a great player.

We did yank him at times though so that everyone got equal playing time. Like most leagues, ours required a minimum playing time for all kids, but we never took the approach that the lesser the skill the closer the kid was to his minimum playing time. The parents all spent the same amount of money to get their kids in the league and as long as the player had a good attitude, the worst players got the same playing time as the best. I don’t think winning, at that age, should take precedent over treating all kids fairly.

Now when they join competitive leagues, where they try out for spots and cuts are made (i.e. high school), you put the best players in and everyone earns their playing time. Winning is the goal at that level and thats the way it should be.

HaHa

September 11th, 2009
1:16 pm

Hunter – good one LOL

Andrea

September 11th, 2009
1:17 pm

I can almost picture some mother with her veins popping out yelling at her child because he/she missed the first swing at the pinata! You know the competition thing at the party may be worth it if for no other reason than it would spare you the expense of hiring clowns for entertainment!

New Stepmom

September 11th, 2009
1:25 pm

Uconn-I guess you win the prize for moving up furthest in the alphabet ;o)! I will try to make a ribbon and send it to you so that YUKI does not get her feelings hurt for only moving up two letters.

catlady

September 11th, 2009
1:38 pm

At a party, I like for ALL the guests to have fun. With a group of 7 year olds, that probably does not include ONE winner.

What amuses me is that if this were a part of school, many of the pro-winner parents here would be causing a stink about their little darling getting his feeling hurt, or having their self-esteem crushed.

What is the reward for winning at a party for 7 year olds? A big cheer by all the guests!

BRC

September 11th, 2009
1:58 pm

What if the 7-year old birthday kid requested party games and prizes?

Jessica

September 11th, 2009
2:02 pm

I think it depends on the age. Four-year olds at a birthday party would NOT be good sports if someone else gets a prize and they don’t. It isn’t reasonable to expect them to “get it” when it comes to winning and losing. If it’s a group of nine-year olds, they should be able to handle it.
I do think it would be a good idea to keep the prize really small — maybe a cheap little 1st place ribbon or a cool sticker — enough to recognize the winner, but not enough to generate any real envy.

new mom

September 11th, 2009
2:24 pm

Speaking of donkeys…. I think that’s the reason my post never showed up. I used some symbols to describe it when someone works their…um…donkey off. Maybe those symbols are blocked. Arrgghh I’ve been banned too! Oh well, time for a nap ;)

DB

September 11th, 2009
2:38 pm

Well, I wrote a diatribe at 10:00 this morning, but it’s never shown up. Boo Hiss. I’m not going to rehash what everyone else has said, only point out that humans are wired to be competitive. You don’t think competition is important? You’ve never had to hunt for your food — when it comes down to eating or starving, I bet you’d be competitive. We do our children a disservice by not teaching them how to deal with competition, life, disappointments and triumphs. Self-esteem comes from within — you can’t give it to anyone.

BTW, had an absolutely riotous lunch with MJG — we laughed for two solid hours about our kids, our work, etc. etc. I hope you all have a chance to meet her someday, she is delightful, funny — and has an infectious laugh!

HB

September 11th, 2009
3:09 pm

Wow, people really get worked up about this! I honestly don’t ever remember competitions with prizes at birthday parties when I was a kid other than a prize egg at one little boy’s egg hunt April bday party. I remember pool parties, skating parties, Showbiz Pizza (pre-Chuck E Cheese). Maybe we played games, but they didn’t make much of an impact on me if we did.

If a parent wants games and prizes, I think that’s fine. But I can see where some parents would lean away from it, though. Competition is good, but not everything has to be one. No reason why a birthday party has to be a competitive event. And as several have said, why does winning have to be rewarded with a tangible prize? A round of applause lets kids know competition and winning isn’t always for the sake of getting something. Overall, I think it’s sad that parents would have to think hard about this. Have games and prizes if you want, or other activities if you don’t — to each his own. The goal should simply to be a good host and work to show a bunch of kids a good time for a couple of hours.

BRC

September 11th, 2009
4:44 pm

I had a friend who didn’t like her daughter to play the Hullaballoo game by Cranium. It’s a simple game where you place plastic shapes of different colors on the floor and follow some pre-recorded directions on which ones to stand on. She didn’t like it because it named a “winner” and the winner gets to do a silly dance or sing a song or something. She didn’t like it because it placed one of the players higher than the others. I think that is taking it to the extreme.

I remember games with prizes at birthday parties and I always thought those were the most fun. And I rarely won. The one time I can remember winning was I guessed closest to the correct number of jelly beans in a small jar. I won the jar of jelly beans.

As far as the Chuck E. Cheese parties, besides being too expensive for my wallet, don’t the kids compare who has the most tickets and who get to pick the better things at the prize counter?

My preschooler came home today and told me they played “hot potato” during recess. I asked him to tell me how they played and he told me, even describing the last person still in the game as the winner. I don’t think a simple game at a party is going to hurt anyone.

Uconn

September 11th, 2009
5:10 pm

New Step mom… I don’t want to upset anyone with a prize… its ok… ;-)

motherjanegoose

September 11th, 2009
5:11 pm

Wow…what a fun lunch I had today with DB. The food was delicious and the company was superb.
DB is the third person on the blog I have met for lunch and ( as expected) she is very interesting.
We plan to get back in touch when I a finished living out of a suitcase this fall.

Have a nice weekend all!

motherjanegoose

September 11th, 2009
5:18 pm

@ Andrea….regarding the cost of birthday parties….I remember a mother who offered me $600 to do her daughter’s party and this was over 5 years ago. I said, “No, I do not do parties…”
She was really mad.

Once, I got a call on a Wednesday in December…here is the conversation:
“Hi there….my daughter has seen you at her school and I asked one of the teachers for your number.We are having a birthday party for her this Saturday and it just occurred to me that while I invited 12 four year olds….WHAT WILL WE DO? I am hoping you are able to come to her party and what do you charge?’ I tell her that NO I am not able to come THIS SATURDAY IN DECEMBER and that I do not do parties. She is all upset and asks, ” WHAT SHOULD I DO?”
Heck if I know…this is her child, not mine and I really DO NOT CARE. Some parents are crazy!

BRC

September 11th, 2009
5:34 pm

@U-Conn, Yuki, New Step Mom, et al – do I get anything? I married someone whose last name has the same initial as my maiden name, so I didn’t move anywhere in the alphabet. At least a consolation prize?

new mom

September 11th, 2009
5:38 pm

MJG–we need to have a get together where we all meet! We could wear two nametags, one with our online names, then our real names…

new mom

September 11th, 2009
5:39 pm

No prize for you BRC, it might make someone else feel bad about themselves… ;)

BRC

September 11th, 2009
5:52 pm

The husband was the prize (ducking the tomatoes now).

DB

September 11th, 2009
6:59 pm

I went from a “W” to a “B” when I married — I was SOOO excited, I had absolutely NO qualms about taking my husband’s name! I had spent my entire life being last in line, at the back of the classroom, etc., etc. Love the view from the front!

deidre_NC

September 11th, 2009
11:44 pm

‘get it right’ i always told my kids that fair was a place where you ride rides and eat cotton candy…oh they hate to hear that now…but if they start to say something about fairness..they immediately repeat ‘i know i know–fair is a place where you ride rides and eat cotton candy’ lol..

to hunter of milfs—im sure you are one of the nice one :)

i love the idea of meeting…it could be a blast..

JATL

September 12th, 2009
10:11 am

Absolutely have winners, losers and prizes! I’m so SICK of the status quo about self esteem and not having any losers I can’t stand it. When I was in school we had Fall Festival King and Queen contests. Talk about competitive!!!! First, one boy and one girl got elected from each class 1st -6th grades, then there was an overall election for who out of all of those pairs would be fall festival king and queen! Kind of like homecoming, but in elementary school. Everyone lived through it, and I highly doubt that it’s come up in any therapy sessions.

I heard a fantastic interview on NPR the other day with two child psychologists who have written a book advising parents NOT to hover, NOT to over-praise and NOT to teach their kids that they’re always winners! They did years of testing that showed the kids who didn’t win everything and who were told they were doing a good job trying, but that they needed to try a little harder were the ones who consistently demanded harder tasks, tackled them and stuck with them until they were done or solved. The kids who were always told how great they were and what a good job they always did (even when it wasn’t true) demanded the easiest tasks and were easily distracted. Our society really needs to get over its obsession with making sure everyone feels fabulous all the time.

MA

September 12th, 2009
12:32 pm

JATL – Your Fall Festival King and Queen contests reminded me of our “Color Day” (Homecoming). I grew up in a very small town and we had “Color Day” to recognize all the clubs in our school. We did have the court with a queen and king and attendants. My class was only 72 kids, so, there were 12 boys and 12 girls picked for the court. It was pretty much a popularity contest. The court was voted on by the student body. I was in a tie with one girl, so, the teachers voted to break the tie and the other girl won(she was also voted most outstanding girl in our Senior class). I was crushed, but, I went to the coronation(in jeans and a ratty sweatshirt) and didn’t go to the dance. My dad told me to suck it up, and, I did. That was many, many moons ago.

I still believe in winners and losers. Not everyone can win. That’s life!

Tiffany

September 12th, 2009
7:39 pm

OK, this is a party for First graders, right? Why do you have to pit them against each other? Can’t little kids just be allowed to have fun? There is a simple solution: play games for fun…believe me, they WILL have fun…then everyone gets a small prize or goody bag to take home when it’s time to go. Everyone has a great time, and they ALL have something special to show mom and dad when they get home. The POINT of the party is to have FUN, right?

Meg Hasten

September 15th, 2009
5:09 pm

I think it’s completely acceptable to have a prize. I agree that kids need to learn early on that there are winners and losers in life and you don’t always get what you want. The sooner they learn this, the more gracious winners and losers they will be. It could be a great opportunity to talk to your son about this too. Good luck!

Irene

September 16th, 2009
1:51 pm

Why oh why would you have a contest? Shouldn’t a party just be fun?

Dan

October 15th, 2009
3:50 pm

Is it appropriate? It should be required