Which game should you play with your kids when there are fights between siblings?
How can you teach to cope with failure through “Snakes And Ladders”? Should you let the child win? Family games are a great way to teach valuable life lessons and make an impact. This is how you do it.
When I studied psychology, the professor mentioned in one of his classes the first game: more than just a game with a child, “Peek-A-Boo”, where the mother hides and discovers her face in front of the baby. The professor turned our attention to the fact in which sends a clear message - “mom always comes back” to her baby, that way making him feel safe. Since then I’m passionate about the hidden messages behind games, and what use you can do to progress and strengthen them based on their needs.
The language of children is the language of play, and they express themselves using this language most of the time. The insights a kid makes while playing, whether they know it or not, affects their lives and this way you can change and improve their quality of living.
A basis for Sharing and Intimacy
Luckily, there’s a little child living in each one of us, and the game encourages us to connect with it. Gathering the family to play creates, above all, quality time. The fact that parents cleared their schedule to sit with their kids for play, is a base to excitement, sharing, and intimacy. Game time gives us an opportunity to communicate, coming from openness and fun, and to peek into the kids’ world.
We can understand better what they are going through and supply them with the right tools. The house is a greenhouse for coping with new personal and social challenges, and the play allows us to pass messages to our children in an indirect manner and incorporate them in a game. Family games can help us strengthen values like mutual respect, listening, and thoughtfulness, in addition to learning personal and social boundaries, as well as teaching social norms.
You can learn a lot from how a child plays: do they play by the rules; do they change or cheat? Do they give space to other participants or overtaking the game? Are they stressed or relaxed? Are they competitive or do they play just for play? Do they lose interest quickly and want to switch games? How do they cope with winning or losing?
Watch out for judgmental comments and remember that there isn’t “good” or “bad”. Competitiveness, for instance, is a positive attribute in its core, as it often takes us one leap forward. But on the other hand, when it’s exaggerated there could be negative outcomes. A child that doesn’t care whether they win or lose but enjoy the game, could be a quitter or overly indifferent if this behavior is exaggerated. The ambition is to reach balance and to avoid exaggeration in any way, and this could be polished and soften using games.
What you experience with the kid in their home court, other kids would usually experience outside, so the feedback you give is so important, it becomes a tool when facing new challenges. If you are satisfied playing together with them, tell this to your child and encourage positive behavior and traits: “I’m having fun playing with you! You have a wonderful sense of humor and you are waiting patiently to your turn”. If the game isn’t pleasant, make sure you deliver the message to the child, since many times they’re not aware to the problem and don’t understand why other kids don’t want to play with them.
Pay attention that you speak out from your own experience, on your behalf: “Since it’s so important for you to win you don’t wait to your turn, you are grumpy and I’m not having fun playing with you when you’re like that”. Be extra careful from making conclusions, in sentences like: “you don’t have anyone to play with on recess because you’re not playing nice”. Sayings things like this could be hurtful, fixate the negative.
The secret to teaching new skills in a pleasant, undeclared indirect way is by picking the right family game. But, there are many types of games, how do we know what to choose?
Sharing Games: Puzzles, Assembly games
What’s in the game? Games where a family cooperates to reach a goal, like assembling big jigsaw puzzles, assembly games that require sticking to instructions. For this matter, making cookies can also count as a sharing game.
The message delivered to the child: We are here with you, together we will overcome the obstacles and reach the wanted result.
Especially recommended when: you feel that something happened, and the kid doesn’t want to share, there’s a shock due to family changes, moving to a new home and when siblings fight.
Luck Games: “Snakes and Ladders”, “Speed”, “War”
What’s in the game? Games where the family is playing allegedly competitive games, but the winner is determined by luck. Games under this category include for example “Snakes and Ladders”, card games like “Speed” and “War” and dice games where you advance by the number that the dice shows and without any strategy.
The message delivered to the child: Everyone has an equal chance to win, and everything could be turned. Things aren’t always in our hands, so you can enjoy the game regardless of the result.
It’s especially recommended to very competitive kids, and to those, you should point out the mentioned messages. Luck games give them a chance to cope with success and failure while separating who they are from the situation, and it should be emphasized to make the coping easier. If the kid lost a luck game, it isn’t because of their miscalculations, but because the card or the dice didn’t turn out to be optimal.
I like “Snakes and Ladders” very much because it teaches the kids that you shouldn’t always get the highest number: in fact, sometimes 2 will bring you to the ladder, and 6 will bring you to the snake.
Card games- Fours, Taki, Yaniv
What’s in the game? Usually, these are games with simple rules, letting kids deal with basic planning, taking turns, winning and losing. These games are fun and the level of frustration in them is relatively low. Game examples: Fours, Taki, Dreams, Rat-a-Tat Cat, King of Falafel, Spin, Yaniv and more.
The message delivered to the kid: You can have fun playing and enjoy the process, even if you didn’t win.
Especially recommended: The game will help the kids who always must win to enjoy the process. For kids who follow rules in an extremely strict manner, the game could help to loosen up a bit: encourage kids to invent their own rules for the for the cards and play by them.
Strategy games: 4 In a row, Monopoly, Rummikub
What’s in the game? Thinking and strategy games that require strategic planning to win. With games like these you can name Checkers and Chess, card games like “Poker” and “Whist”, Monopoly, Rummikub, 4 In a Row, Risk and more.
The message delivered to the child: Early planning, forward-thinking, reading others (cognitively) and peripheral thinking.
Especially recommended: You should play these games with kids who tend to see the world as black and white, saying things like “I’m always failing” or acting fast without investing a thought. These kids can learn through the game that, in fact, they can influence the game and things don’t just “happen”.
An indirect way to do this is to verbalize your way of thinking: “If I went there, you might go here and eat me, so I shouldn't do this, hmm… if I’ll do this I’m making an opening for you to become king, so this isn’t good too, I’ll make this move - it’s the safest” or “you’ll eat him, but then I will be able to eat 2!”. This way the kid will learn from your thinking strategy and will apply them in the future.
Learning games: Scrabble, Scattergories, Trivia, Lottery
What’s in the game? Games in different fields that advance the kid’s studies like Scrabble, Blanco, Scattergories, Trivia, and Lottery games.
The message delivered to the child: Experimental and fun learning, a feeling that you can learn and have fun.
Especially recommended: When the kids are struggling in a certain field or avoiding it (like math or reading), and when you want to enrich them generally with more content. The kids will be much happier to play with you rather than sit together on their homework, and this way they can progress having fun and the field won’t seem so frightening anymore.
When you want to boost the kid’s confidence, play a game he’s good at and give him a chance to show his knowledge.
Imagination games: Free assembling, arts, and craft
What’s in the game? Games that don’t have any rules and let you use your imagination. This category includes- arts and craft, building and assembly games (which doesn’t have any instructions), shapes and more.
The message delivered to the child: imagination building, thinking outside the box, freedom to create and develop, freedom for self-expression.
Especially recommended: With kids that are strict on the rules (kids with “fixated” way of thinking), a game without any rules might sometimes confuse them and even frighten at first, but try to play together and share ideas with them like “maybe we will build a dragon? How will it look like?”. Let the kid take the wheel, for them to get into the game and add ideas of his own.
It’s also recommended for kids that seem like they are struggling with something but don’t say anything about it. Free play will give them an opportunity to express the struggle in their own way and deal with it, even in a nonverbal way.
Emotion Games: Hand on the heart, The Magnificent Forest
The message delivered to the child: It’s safe to shard and tell things to mom and dad. But make sure it really is! Your responses to things that will come up in games like these will influence your child’s decision whether to tell you things in the future. Pay attention to the messages you pass to him in your own turn, in the sharing of your own.
Especially recommended: When you want to bring your child closer to you, understand them and know what they’re going through. These are the most revealing games for all the participants.
And Finally - should you let your child win?
I’ve been asked many times whether you should let your child win. I see home as a greenhouse, a safe place to try out with success and failure, in winning and losing. If you’ll let the kid win all the time, they might be disturbed by the fact that he’s better than you and won’t be able to cope with losing to his friends. On the other hand, you don’t have to win all the time. Play with the kids a moderate game when you sometimes win and sometimes lose. Be sensitive to the level of frustration of the child: pay attention through the game to how they cope with ups and downs in the game that gives them “small” winning and losing feelings, even before the win or loss in the actual game.
For kids that winning is the world, I take out a game from the cabinet, saying “you win!” and put it back. That always works, leading to a response like “No, I want to play!”
Playing with the kids is a great way to know them better, personally and socially. For kids, a game is a language, and they will bring their own selves into the game as they are, with their strengths and weaknesses. For you, the game is an opportunity for communication in a language which they understand, and for delivering messages that will make them stronger.
The messages you would deliver to children during family games will soak in as insights that they will apply outside as well. Would you like your child to make a change? Less talking and more playing will help them process the struggle that they are going through and strengthen their social skills.