Up Snakes and Down Ladders!

It might surprise you to know that playing board games provide numerous benefits for our children. Board games make learning fun because children don’t even realise they are learning. Younger children can learn about colours, shapes, patterns, and maths and as many games involve moving pieces around the board, hand eye coordination benefits too. Patience, waiting, turn taking and team work are all skills that children get to practice and master playing board games.  Language develops, not just from the vocabulary and spelling involved in the game but from reading the instructions or game cards and more importantly from the chats we have while playing together. Who knew spelling could be fun? Try a game of Scrabble with your children and see how learning and fun fit snuggly together. 

For older children we know strategy games have a positive impact on the development of the frontal lobe of their brains. Playing games improves memory, cognitive and communication skills. The planning, organising, remembering information, strategic thinking, problem solving and decision making involved in games are skills that can be applied throughout life. Children gain information about real life from games that involve factual information. They get insight into how other people think or see the world. 

Playing games together gives parents the opportunity to model, coach and encourage the social skills and behaviours that will make everyday life easier and have a benefit throughout your child’s life. Notice and praise the behaviours you want to see more of such as staying calm when frustrated and waiting patiently.

Board games can help children to get along better as they have structure and rules. Structured games can be an asset for children that have difficulty playing with or beside another child. Everyone has a turn and generally there is a specific way to do things. But remember games are fun and you can shake thing up by changing some of the rules. Our family always played Up Snakes and Down Ladders because there was a long snake’s head at 99 and no one wanted to almost win and land right back at the bottom of the board. Children under the age of 7 years are not developmentally ready to understand game rules so keep it simple when young children are playing.

Although games by their nature are competitive, board games also require us to cooperate and this builds a sense of connection that brings families together. As you play, you chat, share ideas and opinions and build family bonds. Often things get discussed and decided that may have proven difficult in other family settings. All players are equal and parents are not in charge so children get to see their parents in a new light creating a different balance. Playing together creates a relaxed fun atmosphere that encourages communication and builds trust that lasts beyond the end of the game. The fun we have together laughing and joking causes our bodies to release chemicals known as endorphins, the happy hormones that lowers our blood pressure and reduces stress.  Research tells us that positive feelings and thoughts can boost our immune system which is something we all really need at the moment.

Avoiding interruptions and having no screens, TV or phones can help keep all of us focused on the game! Sticking with it until the end lengthens children’s attention span and they learn to stay at things that are enjoyable but can also be difficult and disappointing. If children are not used to playing board games start small with short, easy games. Save the ones that can go on longer, like Monopoly, until you have all adjusted to playing together. Monopoly, one of my childhood regulars gave great enjoyment but also caused some family disagreement because my brother, always the banker, embezzled! Interestingly, he became an accountant so perhaps playing a financial based game contributed to his adult career.  This Christmas, like many other families, we were apart so I sent him the Limerick version of Monopoly as a reminder of past family times.  Although I did include a note for my nephew suggesting they never allow Dad to be the banker!

Some children and even some adults have difficulty loosing! Games help you coach your child’s coping skills and their ability to manage their disappointment when things don’t go their way. Be careful not to fall into the trap of always letting your child win. They soon see through this and it denies them the chance to learn from small failures. Better to praise their efforts and help them learn ways to succeed the next time you play. Encourage them to congratulate the winner and praise their efforts bearing in mind that loosing is a skill we all struggle with.

Remember most games benefit from the occasional treat. Bringing some sharing food to the table is enjoyable and helps limit distractions. Popcorn or a pizza to share fit the bill nicely. Consider setting a regular slot for your family game night making it a ritual and giving you all the chance to share each other’s company. Playing board games together is fun and can have a positive impact on the wellbeing of your entire family.

This article was contributed by Tusla PPFS, a member of Parenting Limerick. Parenting Limerick is a network of parenting and family support organisations.