Family Game Night and the Green Monster: Helping Children Deal with Competition

This post is written as part of the Round Table Discussions with Natural Parent Network volunteers. In an effort to discuss, support, and promote a kinder, more gentle world, we are taking an in depth view of various books. Our current book is Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings: How to Stop the Fighting and Raise Friends for Life by Dr. Laura Markham, author of  Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting. We hope you will join us with an open mind and a desire for change and growth.

I am a big proponent of family game nights. I have written before about how my dreams of family game night where a failure until my oldest was around four and we gave up on traditional games and delved into the serious world of the board-gaming community. There, we found a love of geekiness that we embraced and which embraced us. We now spread geeky boardgame love to others and have gotten other families hooked on different games. But how to you help children deal with competition that can erupt in what was seemingly an innocent family game night? You work on it, as with anything else. There are a few tips which can help.

Don’t Make Losing a Bad Thing This is especially true if you are new to playing boardgames or are currently having competition issues with your kids. Remember, losing isn’t a bad thing. It is an opportunity to learn. So try different strategies and tactics. Encourage children to open up and go a new way.

Photo by Hub (Flickr)It’s About Having Fun  Remember the goal of playing the game is to have fun. If you aren’t having fun, you are missing the point. Talk about how much fun you are having throughout the game. Talk about how you enjoy spending this time with your kids. If someone is upset that they are losing, ask them if they are having fun. If they say yes, remind them that that is what matters. If they say no, offer that they suggest the next game or activity so that they can make certain to have some fun.

Play on Teams This is a great strategy for all families with young kids and will open up your possibilities for playing. You can play teams with just about any game, allowing younger players some help with older players who may have more experience or necessary skills like reading or offering older players a reminder of why you are playing.  Working together is part of the fun. Try different combinations and mix it up.

Play Cooperative Games There are several cooperative games out there, including ones which teens and adults will enjoy. Pandemic, along with its various expansion packs, is a great cooperative game for a variety of ages. Forbidden Island is another cooperative game that is readily available. But a game doesn’t have to specifically be a cooperative game for you to play it like one. Try picking up a game like Carcassonne and seeing if you can work together to make the biggest city or longest road. Use Dixit as a way to see how well you can figure out how other family members think or for an awesome story telling game. Your possibilities are only limited by your imagination.

House Rules Special rules for a family are a pretty great way to practice communication and negotiating skills. Work together to help everyone agree on any special house rules. This is also a great way to negotiate to make things more fair when one child has a disadvantage. Perhaps the last person to lose the game gets to go first. Maybe a younger child receives an extra bonus. This can help every family member think about the other people playing and to empathize with their needs.

Have Fun This is a repeat, I know. However, it is a serious one. You need to have fun when playing games with your kids. if you aren’t having fun, they aren’t going to either. This was part of the reason our family didn’t have fun with typical kids’ games. They just weren’t fun to us, and I was afraid we never would have our family game nights. When we switched to games we enjoyed, it changed things around and opened up an entire different world. We also get to see other aspects of our children’s personalities that aren’t always in the forefront.  Each child has their own unique perspective and way of playing. It is awesome to see and also something we can challenge to help them view other points. We have all sorts of family jokes that pop up when it comes to boardgames, and we keep it fun.

Interested in trying out some new games? Besides the games mentioned above, here are a few more which are more readily available: A Ticket to Ride, Settlers of Catan, Dominion, Terra Mystica, Qwirkle, and 7 Wonders. More and more of these games are popping up in big box stores, making them easily accessible to everyone. These “gateway” games will have your family playing gaming style boardgames for years to come. For more information on various games, I recommend checking out BoardGame Geek. The website has all sorts of information on various games. Our family recommends looking for games with a rating of 7 or higher.

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