Playing games with kids a winning strategy: Board games provide teachable moments

2014-03-16T07:00:00Z Playing games with kids a winning strategy: Board games provide teachable momentsJulie Dean Kessler Times Correspondent
March 16, 2014 7:00 am  • 


“Not so fast! Watch this --”

“Okay, but you landed on my railroad, so you owe --”

“Twenty-five dollars? How about I buy it from you?”

Voices get more excited among players around a Monopoly game. If children are involved, there’s probably a lot more going on than just playing. When parents play board games with their children, there are scads of opportunities for the kids—and their parents—to learn.

“There’s a significant benefit to the kids and the adults,” said Tamara Miller, PsyD, a clinical psychologist at Samaritan Counseling Center in Michigan City, Ind. “It can develop increased emotional security in children and provide a practice field for parents.”

Whoa. Games are supposed to be fun, right? Sure, said Bob Scott, senior vice president of wealth management at Centier Bank’s corporate headquarters in Merrillville, Ind. In fact, “I was addicted to board games as a child, and still love them. And now I see that games like Monopoly are critical for parents to interact with their children.”

Trust and teaching

Playing games together helps develop more emotional connections and bonding between parent and child, and that provides opportunities for teaching. Attempts to teach appropriate behaviors aren’t going to be too successful if the bond of trust isn’t there, said Miller. “Parents can create an environment where the child feels secure to learn new skills and to show them off,”she said. Brothers and sisters are taught social skills: Barbs like “Don’t be such a baby” and “That was a stupid move” are off-limits.

Helping a child regulate feelings is another biggie.

“A lot of emotions come up during such play; it’s quite intense,” said Miller. “In a secure environment, if the child gets mad, the parent doesn’t get mad, too. Instead, the parent names the feeling: ‘I know you’re feeling mad,’ and then helps them express the anger in an appropriate way.” Parents can help a child learn to be prideful but not rude; exuberant but not overexcited.

“And that way the parent gets to practice good parenting.”

Somebody has to lose, at games and in real life, observed Scott. “Games can teach kids they can’t always win.”

When children grab a bunch of tokens or play money, or try to take their turn too early, it’s a teachable moment: Instead of scolding, “parents can calmly teach impulse control,” said Miller.

Getting physical

The learning curve isn’t all about emotions.

“Monopoly was probably my favorite as a child,” said Scott. He didn’t say whether that led him to a banking career. “(Games like Monopoly) teach basic math and understanding of basic currency, learning to distinguish one dollar from 10 dollars.

“And with Monopoly’s hotels, kids get some understanding of the concept of investing. Do you want the cheap property or Boardwalk? Where will you make more money in the long run?”

Playing games also contributes to cognitive development, said Miller. “Games are great for practicing abstract thinking skills—like thinking ahead—and skills like math and reading.” Especially for preschoolers, games help develop hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills like picking up small tokens. That’s very different from playing games on an iPad.”

Board games take a while, so kids know they’re getting undivided attention (mute that cell phone, please). That leads to better cooperation with such tasks as getting ready in the morning.

And that means everyone wins.

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