If you’re anything like me, every time you’re making a donate pile from the kids’ existing horde of toys, you find yourself eyeing the wayward pile of board games stacked in the closet and wondering if it’s worth keeping them. After all, with games like Pokémon Go and Minecraft in the world, do kids even want to play Monopoly anymore? And do our littles even get anything out of it when we take the time for a round of Chutes and Ladders?
Hold off on tossing those board games in the garage sale pile just yet. It turns out these old school toys are still in stores for a reason. I spoke with child developmental experts to get the inside scoop on why board games are amazing for our kids, and why family game night should still totally be a thing.
The lack of technology required to play a board game makes them special explains Dr. Beatrice Tauber Prior, a clinical psychologist, author, and owner of Harborside Wellbeing. They’re a simple way to get some quality time with the kids.
“Board games provide a tool for an emotional connection to each other. Now, more than any time in history, families are struggling to find the balance between digital and family connections and board games are a way to grow the family connections.” Making phone-free Friday nights with family board games a weekly thing does sound pretty awesome, TBH.
Simple games like Candyland and Hi-Ho! Cherry-O help young players recognize colors, count spaces, and even help 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 will serve kids far beyond the living room floor.
Get the Brain Buzzing
Forget flash cards and workbooks. Board games are an easy way to encourage healthy brain development in older kids and teens. And (fingers crossed!) playing board games with them may just lead to less nagging on our part!
“Strategy games, including Clue, Sequence, and card games are useful in helping the frontal lobes of the brain to develop,” explains Dr. Prior. “The frontal lobes are responsible for executive function skills. These skills include planning, organizing, and making good decisions. While this area of the brain is last to develop, we all can think of a child or teen who could use a little help in their ability to plan and think ahead.”
Boost Their Language Skills
Board games can be a sneaky way of helping school-aged kids work on skills they’re struggling with. Got a reluctant reader? A round of classic Boggle, Scrabble, or the silly Captain Underpants Sign Changing Game will help them expand their vocabulary and flex their spelling skills.
A game like Clue, where players have to remember several multiple pieces of information in their mind at once (who did what, and where) might help a child who’s having trouble with reading comprehension.
An Alternative to Time Out
The next time you find yourself having a rough couple of days 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 Dr. Regine Galanti, a licensed clinical psychologist and Professor at Yeshiva University’s Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology. “They can be used to increase frustration tolerance in a child that struggles.”
Playing a round of Trouble or Sorry, where players can make the game harder for each other by sending other players back to start, might help an older kid who’s butting heads with mom and dad blow off some steam in a safe and appropriate way. Plus taking turns during the game can help them model more correct, respectful behavior than stomping off and slamming their door.
Increase Attention Span
“Board games, when played without interruptions, can also help lengthen a child's attention span,” says Dr. 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,” she encourages. “Finishing a board game without interruption will help lengthen the declining attention span of kids in world filled with digital distractions.”
Dr. Galanti says board games can help kids with social anxiety learn how to navigate friendships more easily. “For an anxious child, board games, because of their nature as structured, can provide an easier way to build interpersonal relationships with peers with the child knowing what's expected of them (which often lessens the anxiety),” she says. Having set rules to follow in a board game can ease stress over how to play with other kids.
For kids who struggle with Selective Mutism or striking up conversations with other kids, Dr. Galanti suggests games that promote speech such as Guess Who, Battleship, and Headbandz to encourage kids to talk to each other.
Real World Life Lessons
Board games like Chutes and Ladders offer kids meta-messages about life: Your luck can change in an instant — for the better or for the worse. But in addition to teaching our kids that nothing is guaranteed, board games are a good way to encourage kids of different ages to interact together — just like they’ll have to as adults. Form teams with older kids working with 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 (smaller players can be in charge of the spinner!).
A Word About Winning
As parents we hate to see our kids upset, but we also want them to grow up to be honest adults, which raises the question: Is it ever okay to let our kids cheat at board games?
Dr. Galanti says it’s fine to bend the rules sometimes for younger kids as long as they know they’re not doing things by the book (Note to self: Stop stacking the Monopoly Jr. chance cards behind the boys’ back!).
“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,” she says, “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 (i.e., ‘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!’).”
It’s all right to let them re-roll the die or pick a different card occasionally but try not to make a habit out of it. After all, their friends may not follow the same “Do-Over” rules.