I have been teaching my 6 year old daughter chess for past 2 years. She plays reasonably well. She often defeats level 25 in Chess Lv 100 app and sometimes Level 6 in Chess.com app. So I am guessing her ELO rating might be around 1200.

I am trying to encourage her to think a little more and be more patient before making an instinctive move. I must have told her a 100 times and shown her effects of not thinking when we analyse the game after she is done. But she continues the same way and does too many errors which she can easily avoid if only she had thought for 5 seconds more. What else can I do to make her understand this?


I have got a lot of answers and useful pointers. Here is a quick summary of suggestions and some of my thoughts.


  1. I think some people thought that I train my daughter without her will. May be because of the way I framed the question, English is not my first language. Anyways that is not the case. Whatever is to be done is to be done while understanding a 6 year old's psychology and while ensuring that she continues loving the sport

  2. Every 6 year old (or for that matter a 60 year old) is not the same. So there is no perfect solution that a 6 year old will surely do x or will surely not do y. Even blanket solutions for an average 6 year old kid wouldn't work if it is already established that you are not dealing with an average 6 year old. We have to research/identify/adjust solutions which suit us best.

  3. Solutions like "just keep letting her make mistakes and she will one day understand" have one risk of bad habits getting formed which are extremely difficult to do away. I have seen it happening with kids in other sports. However it also works out fine in many instances.

  4. I think "having fun playing" is not the only motivation. Sure it is the most important one but not the only one. Also various motivations feed into one another. For example, if a kid wins a trophy, he/she will have more fun playing and training which leads to a virtuous cycle. So in the end, it all boils down to striking a right balance between training and having fun. For a 6 year old, probably 90-95% has to be fun.

  5. Best solution is probably to nudge a kid in the right direction but in such a way that kid doesn't feel nudged. It is obviously easier said than done. It has to done in a very subtle and patient way. In my opinion, it is not enough for the kid to enjoy the process. Coach/Teacher/Parent has to enjoy it too.

Biggest takeaways for me are

  1. I shouldn't just be asking her to think more. I have to break down "thinking" more. Feed her questions which I would ask myself before playing a move

  2. I now give more time to analysis of the game after her game with bot is over. We also use a manual chessboard to show where game could have gone if she or the bot had played other move. That engages her better.

  3. Trying to understand her point of view better. Sometimes a moves looks very wrong prima-facie. But I am glad to find that there is a rationale behind it. Sure, it is half-baked and not thoroughly thought out. But that will get fixed if we keep at it.

  4. We play together with higher bot levels. That is fun for me as well as her and is a good way to feed her questions.

  5. Have more variety in play. open ended puzzles, close ended puzzles, blitz, regular, analysis, digital, manual, lower level bot, higher level bot, another human.

  6. Videos if available in your language and Chess Clubs which can provide a good sparring partner should help a lot.


14 Answers 14


From my 15 years experience as a chess teacher - and then chess dad.

Stop telling her to think longer !

This is the wrong thing to do.

  • First, it is useless: as you have noticed, even telling her so 30 times didn't improve her thinking process. Obviously, she is quite smart, so she must have totally understood your point about playing too fast. She got it, she just can't, or doesn't want to, wait more before making her moves yet. That's good. On the opposite, I've seen kids who knew what move they would do but just waited one more minute before playing because their teacher told them they need to take more time: that's wrong, and that's not what you want for your daughter.

  • Although a teenager or an adult merely improves in chess by thinking, a child improves more by playing. It feels stupid and frustrating to us to lose a game after a blunder, like hanging a piece, that we know we would have avoided if we had thought just a little bit more about our move, but for a child, this is less painful: I had fun playing, the result is soon forgotten, let's start a new game. At 6, making mistakes (not only in chess) is part of the learning process, and the kid who plays some great moves and some blunders has much more potential than the one who applies a standard thinking routine, carefully checks possible captures at each move but has no creative idea. If anything, the first one will have more fun, love chess more, and keep enjoying it!

By the way, all the grandmasters I know were big fans of blitz when they were kids (and most of them still enjoy it).

Tell her more about what to think about!

  • Why did she play Ne5 so fast? Because she saw Ne5 was an interesting move, she has an idea that such a move should be profitable, and because she didn't stop to check anything else before grabbing the knight in her hand.

  • When you study a position together, or solve an exercise, insist on what you are thinking about and helps you find the best move. Think aloud: "Why did my opponent play this move? What does he wanna do? Are there possible checks? Possible captures? Is there a piece that is not active?..." Insist on what you think about after you have found an idea, or when you have a move in mind that your hand really wants to play: "What will the opponent play after I do this move? Does the piece I am about to move already have a function where it stands? Will it be secure where I want to put it?" When your daughter will consider (some of) these questions in her own games, her playing rhythm will slow down naturally, while improving her self-confidence (on the opposite, telling her she plays too fast or she made a bad move because she didn't think might damage this important self-confidence-possibly leading to a much worse evil, the Zeitnot disease so many adults struggle with.)

  • Maybe it won't be useful at once. Maybe she doesn't really mind losing a piece once in a while because she has been careless. That's okay. She will grow and at some point, she will want to remove blunders from her play. What matters is that when this moment arrives she will have the right tools to slow down and check more things. But if for the time being she is more interested in learning mating patterns, well, let her be, that's great too and no less helpful for her future chess development!

  • However, I would be careful about not giving her a strict "thinking routine" (see the second bullet point above), like at each move, first do this, then that, then check this, then count until 10, then do your move. This is too mechanical, and you don't want to feed a machine with an algorithm to follow but to help a brain to develop to address some problems. And that brain will develop thinking methods thanks to all the smart input you feed it with, but they should be its own solutions, probably too complex to be described in chronological order, and not something mechanical. Actually, not every grandmaster thinks exactly in the same way, and no human has a strictly precise algorithm for choosing his move.

In other words, feed her with questions, not with answers!


Playing too fast is just the symptom, don't fight the symptom. Time management is actually much more difficult than chess at age 6, so by telling her to play more slowly, your facing her with an harder (and much less fun) problem than the real one.

The real problem is what to feed her reflexion with: you have to tell her more about what to look at, what to think about, or try to explain to her how you would think in a given position (as an example for guidelines, but not has a model to copycat).


What else can I do to make her understand this

Wait a few years. A 6 year-old's mental capacity is very limited. The good news is that at that age and for several years to come her mental capability is increasing rapidly.

Trying to teach a 6 year old the same way you teach a 12 year old is stupid whether it is maths you are teaching or chess. At 6 the emphasis should be on enjoyment if you still want her to be playing chess at 12.


Math educator here. It's very difficult for children at this age to think much ahead in their heads.

According to Piaget's theory, they don't even reach "concrete operational" stage at this age, which roughly means thinking by manipulating objects. According to Piaget, this is stage is between 7-11 years. It seems your daughter already reached this one. But probably it will take a few years until she can think many moves ahead, or think by abstract concepts. This next stage is called "formal operations". More recent research indicates that many kids only reach this at 16 years of age or later, and some may never reach it.

So I suggest taking one chess position at a time, and trying out different ways of play from that point. She will quickly see which move leads to which consequence. Let her manipulate oversized chess pieces, or try a live chess game, she'll most likely enjoy that. I loved Battle Chess as a kid, if you don't mind mild violence. So play at this age is VERY important, as others have noted.

And I must agree with Hamsterrific, be very careful not to push her too much or she'll lose interest.

I suggest reading the books of Laszlo Polgar on this subject.


Short Answer

Just keep doing exactly what you're doing: practicing with her and reviewing the game later and pointing out the main mistakes. Let time do the rest.

Long Answer

It is amazing that your 6 years old daughter is already at this level. First of all, congratulations.

Before going into a suggestion on how to make her improve further, I think it is very important to point out that you must be careful to not press her too much and the "too much" could be less than you're thinking. If you're trying to push her to 1400 but the process becomes not fun, you risk dropping her to 0 instead, if she gets upset with all the pressure and stops playing altogether.

Now, for the teaching part, recall that there is not an agreement among specialists on what is the best way to teach things (talking generally, not specifically about chess). People dedicate their lives studying how to teach, and there are surely a lot of progress but certainly no definite recipe.

That said, what I'd suggest for a 6 years old is just to keep playing. Keep practicing, and reviewing the games (especially since you already do that with her successfully). I'd say you're just in the right track. Experience itself is a great way to learn.

I don't have a reference immediately, but it's usually considered best to make the student learn by himself instead of just throw the knowledge at him/her. So trying to be too "theoretical" might not work well. You said yourself that "I've said it a lot of times". This is a known problem, teachers say things many times in class but students don't learn. Especially because we don't want to risk her getting upset about it.

So, by continuing playing, in a way that is not stressful, I'm sure she will start realizing by herself her mistakes (especially if pointed out in the game review). Let time do the rest.


Firstly, I would like to say that her performance is really impressive.

Second, I would like to say not to go hard on her, since she might lose the interest and probably feel as if she's being forced to play. The only thing common in most top chess players is that they really enjoy the game and really want to push their abilities despite it being a very limited game. In short, they really love the game.

Regarding her playing fast, I would suggest a little parent-kid exercise. You two should sit together and try playing against some decent level bot. During the game, you should ask her to describe the lines she's thinking of to you. I would suggest doing this in a very casual manner. Your kid is displaying a quite common psychology pattern which other kids show which is avoiding thinking at times, therefore this exercise must be conducted in a way so that she gains an appreciation for detailed thinking. Keep doing this until she has a self-realization about benefits of thinking a bit before taking actions. I've seen that kids have a lot of "realization stages" in those years where they gain maturity about certain things.

You can also do a similar exercise for the analysis stage.

I would also suggest adding blindfold training to her routine. She might not be ready for it yet, but you guys can give it a start. I've seen blindfold players have an amazing mental representation of the board and can easily keep many piece-constraints in their mind with continuity. Visual players usually have to "re-generate" these piece-constraints after some stage. This might help also help her since my guess is that she feels a bit lazy to generate those constraints again and again. I've personally experienced it myself.

Also, don't worry too much, she has good cognitive abilities. Try getting her involved in other areas too math etc. I often have a feeling that doing other "puzzling" activities has complemented my chess but I'm not sure if it is usually the case with everyone.


The simplest and the most effective might be the "count to 5 before making the move" rule. Works like a charm, but doing it all the time will definitely take the fun out of the game. Probably you may advise her to think a bit longer when she's about to make a mistake or allow take back a move when playing together.

It's very empowering to feel that "Aha!" moment, when you get the winning combination or snatch a piece, but you need to be careful to keep games interesting, and if playing fast helps to keep the attention -- well, let her play fast. It's quite difficult for kids to concentrate for the long time, so maybe until she hits the glass ceiling at around 1500ELO, just let her play and enjoy the game as much as she could. Longer attention span will come later.

Also, it might help a bit to throw in occasionally a few simple tactical puzzles to help developing the intuition and let her enjoy the "victory" without going through all the game.


Learning is a combination of logic and memory. All problems can be reduced to search. Thus, problem-solving boils down to exploring some solution space, and optimization problems involve finding some solution which is better than a solution you already have, up to some time budget. Being able to jump directly into a promising region of the solution space is much faster than having to traverse there step by step. This is what happens when you remember the result of a complex calculation, and in computer science, we call it "memoization".

Grandmasters play strong chess because they can compute far more positions than masters. And they can do this not because their brains work faster, but because they have made good trade-offs between time and space. Their brains have saved the results of previous board states and sequences so that they can shortcut to the outcomes of certain lines of attack, thereby allowing them to push deeper into the solution space in the same amount of time.

But memory is a funny thing: you can only remember something if you have seen it already. Thus, the best way to build up a memory of good moves and strategies is to see a lot of good moves and strategies. Not only that, but our brains are very good at throwing away data, as they must, so that they don't overflow each day. How does our brain decide what to keep and what to throw out? We don't know for sure, but it's pretty obvious that emotionally charged events get saved, and boring ones get thrown away. So how do you remember the good board states and move sequences in chess? One way is to create an emotional event: either a clever sub-victory, or a painful defeat. And here is the crux of the matter.

You want your daughter to avoid the defeats by thinking harder and only playing good moves. But your daughter is learning optimally on her own. Defeats are actually helping her remember how not to play, which helps her build up the rules and memories for quickly pruning bad branches of the search tree! You see it as wasteful, but only because you have never tried to train an artificial neural network on your own.

We know how to teach machines to learn, but our methods are both very crude and very precise. They are crude because they take thousands of times more data points than humans require, but they are more precise because the answers they give are far more consistent and well-defined than humans can generally provide. Each one is a different engineering trade-off. A computer would need to play thousands of times more games than your daughter to achieve the same level of competence from scratch. So stop thinking about those blunders as wasted learning opportunities and start viewing them for what they really are: essential manipulation of her bio-computer learning machine.

At this stage of the game, she is building up an internal mental model of how the chess universe works. And the fastest way to do that is to explore quickly and blindly, so she can set up a rough scaffolding. Yes, she will make mistakes. Yes, she will model some things incorrectly. Yes, she may even form some bad habits that she later needs to break. If there is a more efficient way to learn something complex from scratch, no computer scientist alive has demonstrated it in a working program. But I would argue that the most valuable thing for her at this stage is to play as many games as possible, as quickly as she is comfortable, so she gets to see the "big picture", which you yourself have already built up over many years.

This is frustrating for you, because you are looking at a map of the world and she is looking at a giant blank canvas with a few dots filled in. You can tell her exactly where the mountain ranges and rivers and lakes are, but she must earn this knowledge herself, the hard way, in order to build up that model. If you spoon-feed her precise data points, she will only own those data points. She needs to follow the paths to victory on her own, mapping out the walls and dead-ends, so that she sees the map as fully as you do.

Creating sub-problems is great. That lets her focus on a small room in the chess universe, and explore it in detail. But you need a good mix of barnstorming and 40,000' surveying to build up a good mental model of the problem space. Otherwise, relax, and count your lucky stars that your daughter enjoys playing chess as much as she already does. The best thing you can do as a father is to continue to make the game as enjoyable as possible, so that she practices as much as she is able.

When she gets stuck or reaches a plateau, she will probably ask for help. And then you can go over chess books and study the game more formally. But she is SIX! Let her play. Let her be a kid. Her brain is doing a fantastic job already. Give it some credit and watch the miracle of human intelligence in action. If you think she is learning slowly, download any of the open-source ANN projects and teach one to recognize hand-written letters, or identify shapes in pictures, etc. That is more boring than watching paint dry.


After each move, have her write down a list of moves she thinks you'll make. The highest on the list your actual move is, the better.

If she's having trouble visualizing lines in her head, get bases with pictures of the pieces for them to sit on. Have her move just the piece, then look at the board. If need be, have her walk over to the other side and see the board from "your point of view". She can then move the piece she thinks you'll move, etc. When she's done moving the pieces, she can move all the pieces back to their bases, then move the piece and the base of her "final decision".


Have you tried linking playfulness with some video explaining strategies and mental thinking? Just like cartoons, when they teach you lessons, it could be chess strategies in a fun way :)


@Hockeyfan19 wrote a comment that I think deserves to be an answer.

Chess puzzles

Puzzles naturally encourages a more reflected way of thinking. There is one correct answer, and if you think long enough, you will find it.

Puzzles should be concrete, "Mate in 2", not "Moves and wins". In the later it is hard to know if you have found the right answer or not.

I would also like to repeat what most answers have already said: Don't push too hard.


As pointed out in the other answers already, there is little possibility that a 6 year old understands the concept of thinking about moves of the opponent as we adults do.

I am trying to encourage her to think a little more and be more patient before making an instinctive move.

Many children lose interest pretty quickly. Forcing them to play more slowly will result in them waiting for the time to finish and then just making random moves (often worse as if they were allowed to play as they want).

The best you can do is try and show her how it is done and she will catch up some day and use it in her own play as well. What I would also suggest is not only talking at the end of the game. You want her to think before the move, so show her how you think before she (or you) makes the move!

What else can I do to make her understand this

A method that I have seen applied is animistic thinking. Instead of talking about the pieces as objects, try to talk about them as persons. For example the king is feeling alone, when no pieces (his friends) are around him. Or pieces could get bored if they are just moving back and forth. Many children can relate to these emotions better than to concepts of mate, repetition, or loss of initiative.

However success of this approach is not guaranteed and it greatly depends on the child and how you present the feelings of the pieces. Some children are not really empathetic and have troubles relating the feelings of the pieces to necessary actions. Others get too strongly attached to their pieces and might make irrational moves because of that.


So, this is not a chess answer per se but an answer in general about how I found it effective to teach multiple steps to children so they will think ahead in the future.

The biggest problem is, you analyze after the game the moves she made and what effects those decisions have. That's way to long to be concrete, it has no reference point to hook onto for a child's brain. You're telling an interesting story, but it's nothing something hooked into a behavior reward/punish system that will improve the learned pathways.

The moment she makes a "mistake move" or "strategic move" pause the game and show a red card with frowny face when it's a mistake move, and show a green card with smiley face when it's a strategic move.

Then ask her at that moment after showing the card, what moves she had planned for that strategy. Don't ask motivation for that move, just ask her what she had planned ahead. Then use her strategy to explain further about weaknesses or positive alternatives she now has.

This way it's actively hooked into the action of making the move, there's a direct connection to the reward/punish centers in the brain and the neuron's will adapt to this behaviour/punishment signal. It takes the brain 2 weeks to learn and mature a concept that it becomes ingrained and the neuron don't die off. So make sure to practice the behavior of thinking, explaining, correcting regularly in those first two weeks, after that you could slowly start expanding with pattern recognition etc..


I gave my kid a couple of colored stones and told her to put a colored stone onto every field she can move to. Then she has to elaborate on every single identified move, before taking the colored stone away. She is always motivated enough to place the colored stones. After that, it is very easy for me to say: "Hey, you are not done thinking, because there are still colored stones on the board".

This technique works very well when there are only a few pieces left on the board. Beware though! She is still a 6 year old kid (mine is too). I get bored and eventually frustrated when using this technique. She gets there a lot sooner. Apply with caution. :-)

No seriously, this method is only really suited to ensure you do not forget any alternatives. I use it because it visualizes this fact. I let her use that information however she likes. With many pieces on the board this means she will just ignore it and do whatever she thinks is best. With less than 10 pieces on the board I sort of make her use the stones, so that she learns. She actually defeated me a couple of times, b/c she uses her stones and I played sloppy. Whenever she feels she needs to think in more detail, she uses the stones now, without me saying or doing anything. I suppose one day I'll have to take away the stones and make her do it all in her head...


You are putting the cart before the horse. You want to teach your daughter deduction before allowing her to think. That's like trying to teach someone grammar before letting her acquire her first language. Children learn by patterning and osmosis and they are classes above adults in that facility. You want to sabotage her progress here by making her act like an adult.

Don't. If you think you have to teach her something specific, play against her. Once you don't get to make your point because she beats you before you can do it, get her in a chess club. And be prepared to have to work on finding her friends and an atmosphere where playing is still fun for her. Women in chess are quite more rare than women in engineering schools and there rarely is a dearth of mediocre males perfectly willing to sneer at females in order to establish their not-so-natural superiority. The typical age difference is not going to help with that, either.

Playing computers may be less socially challenging but computer play of comparable strength or somewhat above is much less didactic when done too much than playing humans of comparable strength or somewhat above since the patterns of play just map better to human learning.

Against a computer, expressing a "plan" is very much pointless since a computer will mindlessly jump into the human's first mistake and completely reverse course much more willingly than a human invested in plan and defense. So any preconceived plan is likely to collapse for incomprehensible reasons anyway. Actually working "plans" involve very long-term goals and patterns and shifts of balance that are really not well describable verbally anyway. Most certainly not in the language of a 6-year old. Do you want her to become a good player or a good commentator?


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