Game Time

“Family Game Night” has become a buzzword in our culture, thanks to a successful advertising program. But how many families really do it? Not very many from our unscientific interviews, but the desire is there. Playing games with the family seems to be on many a to-do list, but not always possible to do. And yet, parents also tell me that when they do it, they have a good time.

So, in case you need some more convincing, here are a few reasons you won’t see in ads that might encourage you to dust off those games—or purchase a new one or two.

  1. It’s Cheap Entertainment. Really. In the scheme of things, games don’t cost a lot. And you probably already have a few on the shelf. Compare that to taking the family to the movies, and it’s a no-brainer.
  2. They Force You to Talk To One Another—In a Good Way. Games are essentially social experiences, and it’s hard not to get involved in talking about the game. And even if things are roiling between siblings or there are stresses between parent and child, playing games enforces a kind of détente, and if you’re laughing and sharing time together, well, that can open the gate to other conversation.
  3. They Level the Playing Field—When parents are always in control, if the kids win a game (fairly, of course) that can shift the balance of power within the family in a good way. It’s all in good fun, but who doesn’t like to feel like they bested the person in control? Especially with skill or strategy games, that can build self confidence. (I was always a better chess player than my father, for instance, even though he still enforced the house rules.)
  4. They’re Great Training Grounds—Games are essentially social experiences, and social skills need to be taught. From being a good winner or loser to modeling how to express oneself to the ability to carry on a conversation, these skills are critically important for kids, and they’re not part of any academic curricula. Also, in the context of a game, it’s fairly easy to correct kids with humor and in an environment where the stakes are low.
  5. It’s Away from the Screens—This is a corollary to the points above. Getting kids faces out of screens and interacting with other people is one of the challenges of contemporary parenting. Doing it in a fun way begins to establish those critical social skills. As parents are eager to limit screen time, they need to provide an alternative entertainment, and games are about as good as it gets.
  6. It’s Fun…But…—Games are a lot of fun, but kids may take some convincing at first. It’s worth the effort for all the reasons above, but encouraging kids to have new experiences in the context of the family is never wasted energy. You may create lifetime game players.

So what games to pick? Well, games that are easy and fun for the whole family. There are wonderful new games like Anger Management, which is comic and doesn’t require special skill. New classics like Apples to Apples create an even playing field. And for preschoolers, we particularly love the Spot-It games because they reinforce visual skill, information processing and challenge in a fun way. Particularly for preschoolers, games of chance such as Disney Princess Candyland are good for helping kids learn basic social skills and learning about random and unpredictable outcomes in an age-appropriate way.

The best family games have an even playing field, meaning that no special skill is required that can give one player an advantage over another. In other words, don’t try to play a sophisticated trivia game with a child who couldn’t possibly know a lot of the answers. And don’t forget comedy, new games like Fibber in which the biggest liar gets the longest nose (Pinocchio, anyone?) combine all the above benefits, with a silly scoring mechanism.

Mostly, have fun. That’s what this is about? And we’d love to hear your family game experiences.

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