Family Game Night

My wife Kathy and I have played games with Melissa for nearly 20 years. We started by assigning a specific night of the week when we would clear the calendar and devote an hour or two to playing games. Sometimes we played board games. Other times we played more physical games.

It wasn’t long before Melissa came to cherish this family time. She could be the center of attention and have fun. If we tried to skip a night, she would let us know that she wasn’t happy about it.

I’ve come to realize that not only were these games entertaining, but they helped Melissa grow and learn in some very important areas.

SOCIAL SKILLS. Appropriate social behavior is a challenging concept for any child, and seems to be even more difficult for our kids. You can’t rationalize with them. And you can’t be present for every “teachable moment” when you can use their actions to help guide them about what is correct and incorrect behavior. I’ve noticed that game-playing has instilled strong positive social skills in Melissa. Through game-playing, she’s grasped the concepts of turn-taking and following rules—both vital skills for appropriate social behavior.

STRATEGY DEVELOPMENT. Effective game-playing often calls for use of a game strategy. For example, in the game of SORRY, the player sometimes must decide which competitor game piece to send back start … and of course the optimum selection would be the game piece closest to home. While we take this process for granted, it is complex decision-making. After selecting the wrong piece (and losing) Melissa quickly figured out the strategy which she now uses very effectively!

RANDOMNESS and CHANCE. The concept that some things are out of our control is nearly impossible to teach without an example. Game-playing demonstrates this each time you roll of the dice, select a playing card, or spin the spinner. Your child sees that they can’t control the outcome … and must deal with the results.

MOTOR SKILLS. Melissa has issues with both fine and gross motor skills as a result of her medical issues. Moving board game pieces, shuffling cards, and similar actions are a great way to exercise fine motor skill development. Physical games such as shuffleboard, bowling, darts, croquet, and bocce ball can help improve coordination and gross motor skill development.

EMOTIONS. Nobody likes to lose—it’s a disappointment. And we know that life is filled with disappointments. Temper-tantrums are a common reaction to disappointment. Game-playing can help address this issue by demonstrating the appropriate way to handle the disappointment (of losing). By setting a good example of being a “good sport” we offer positive reinforcement and teach appropriate techniques for controlling one’s emotions.

And what about the computer? Melissa has used the computer since she was three years old. At that time, we purchased software for our MAC that used game-playing to reinforce her counting and spelling skills. It worked remarkably well. When the computer is used in this mode, it is a “personal” device and isn’t a substitute for Family Game Night. However, new gaming technology, such as the Wii has expanded computer-based games to include other players … which are better suited to the skill development a parent might seek from game-playing.

Game-playing is an educational experience. It helps develop a competitive nature and desire for winning. And it helps deal with the disappointment of losing. If you aren’t playing games together, I urge you to consider making it a new family ritual.



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