Even simple games help young players identify colors, count spaces, and develop hand-eye coordination and dexterity in moving cards and pieces around the board. Plus, learning to wait your turn and follow the rules are important lessons that serve kids far beyond the living room floor.
Board games are an easy way to encourage healthy brain development in older kids and teens. “Strategy games are useful in helping the frontal lobes of the brain develop,” says Beatrice Tauber Prior, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist, author, and owner of the private practice Harborside Wellbeing. “Those frontal lobes are responsible for executive function skills, which include planning, organizing, and making good decisions."
Board games can be a sneaky way of helping school-aged kids work on skills they’re struggling with. Have a reluctant reader? A round of the BOB Books Happy Hats Beginning Reading Game will help them expand their vocabulary and flex their spelling skills.
Meanwhile, games in which players have to remember several pieces of information at once (who did what, and where) might help a child who’s having trouble with reading comprehension — all while still having fun.
“Board games, when played without interruptions, can help lengthen a child's attention span,” says Prior. But to reap the benefits, everyone needs to commit to seeing the game through to the end.
“If your family sits down for a game of Chinese checkers, be sure to complete a full game without everyone checking their phone, asking Alexa to play a song, or turning on the TV for the latest football scores,” adds Prior. “Finishing a board game without interruptions will help lengthen the declining attention span of kids in a world filled with digital distractions.”
Board games often offer kids meta-messages about life: Your luck can change in an instant, for better or for worse. But in addition to teaching them that nothing is guaranteed, board games are a good way to encourage kids of different ages to team up and work together — something they'll need to do throughout life. Form teams of older kids working with their younger siblings, or choose a game like The Brainiac Game or Race Across the USA, which have questions tailored to grades 1-6, so everyone’s challenged fairly.
The next time you find yourself going through a rough patch with one of your kids, consider playing a board game together instead of sending them to their room. “I often use board games as a mechanism to work on the parent-child relationship,” explains Regine Galanti, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist and professor at the Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology at Yeshiva University in New York City. “They can also be used to increase frustration tolerance in a child.”
In other words, taking turns and practicing patience during a game — even when things don't go their way — can help little ones practice more respectful responses than stomping off and slamming their bedroom door shut.
They may help anxious kids learn how to navigate friendships more easily. “Because they're structured, board games can provide an easier way to build interpersonal relationships with peers, since the child knows what's expected of them,” says Galanti. For kids who struggle with striking up conversations with others, Galanti recommends games that promote structured opportunities for chatter, such as guessing games.
“If you're playing with a child who has low frustration tolerance, and losing is really difficult for them, allowing them to break the rules at first can make the game more tolerable and fun for them,” says Galanti. “But my goal is often to purposely play by the rules and encourage them to use coping skills and promote resilience when things don't go their way."
For instance, you might say: "I'm so proud of you for staying calm even though you picked a card you didn't like. I hope next time you pick a good one!"
The lack of technology required to play board games makes them special. They are a simple way to get quality, screen-free time with the kids — and you might be surprised by how much they love playing. (Here are more screen-free activities to keep your kids entertained during the holidays this year.)
"Families are struggling to find the balance between digital and real-life connections, but board games provide a tool for that emotional connection to each other," says Prior. Order pizza and make it a way to celebrate the start of the weekend together!
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