Why playing board games is so good for kids - and how to get them to join in
By Lisa Salmon
If you're a parent who'd love to spend more time with the kids, and are desperate for them to stare at screens a little less, there could be a way of tackling both - by playing board games together.
The benefits of board gaming are far-reaching; allowing parents to have much-needed conversations with the kids, as well as developing children's interpersonal skills, and boosting confidence and cognitive ability. It's a win-win!
Ellie Dix has been obsessed with board games from an early age, and after teaching and leading a team of school behaviour specialists, she now runs her own board game company, The Dark Imp, and has even written a book, The Board Game Family (Crown House Publishing, £12.99. Available now) to highlight the benefits of board games.
"Board games bring people together and help parents to reclaim family time," says Dix. "Through games, parents can create an irresistible offline world that will restore balance, deepen relationships, develop transferable skills and create shared, long-lasting memories."
Here, Dix outlines some of the many benefits of playing board games, and suggests how parents can get reluctant kids to play them...
1. They get kids away from screens
Parents are always searching for ways to occupy their children offline. Board games satisfy our desire to play, without staring at a video game.
2. Children can see parents play
It's easy for parents to get caught up with what needs to be done and forget about having fun together. It's important for children to see their parents play. Playing should be a normal part of life, for both adults and children.
3. It models appropriate behaviour
Parents who are humble in victory and cheerful in defeat demonstrate great sportsmanship. Regularly rejoicing in the good fortune or praising clever choices of another player normalises positive attitudes.
4. Games help children learn from failure
Board games provide a platform for us to fail repeatedly. The stakes are low; it doesn't matter if we lose. As children become more comfortable with failing, they learn from it. A player can analyse what brought about their demise and why another player triumphed. Children start to learn about the impact of their own decisions, but in a very safe environment.
5. It develops social skills
Children learn how to take turns, be patient, work as part of a team, negotiate, compromise, communicate ideas, take risks, follow rules and directions, and manage restrictions.
6. Board games improve learning
Playing games improves memory and cognitive skills, increases processing speed, develops logic and reasoning, improves critical thinking, boosts spatial reasoning, improves verbal and communication skills, increases attention and concentration, teaches problem-solving, develops confidence and improves decision-making.
7. There's family equality
Parents usually make decisions for the rest of the family, but all players are equal in a board game. A temporary balance is achieved and this can be liberating for children.
8. You have shared experiences
Playing board games brings families together. Good board games evoke all sorts of emotions; happiness, tension, intrigue, awe, trust, anticipation and surprise. Our emotional reactions connect us to the game, the experience and the people we're playing with.
9. They're a conversation starter
Tabletop chatter spills over into post-game analysis. Great experiences act as bookmarks in our mind, giving us memories to chat about time and time again.
10. There's a low entry bar
Anyone can get a game and quickly learn to play. No special skills, knowledge or equipment are required. Board gaming is cheap, and the amount of replayability offsets any initial investment. Board games are portable and easy to store, and each game provides a complete experience in a short time.
11. It improves family relationships
When playing games, players focus on one another, but within the safety of the structure of the game. Interaction is increased, and players need to communicate effectively to achieve their objectives. Board games give families opportunities to see each other in a different light.
12. Games can help improve awareness, consideration and respect
Through games, we learn the impact our actions have on others. Players learn to truly listen to obtain information about others. The tone of voice gives indications about how a player's feeling, and body language gives micro-clues about their possible plays and strategy.
13. There's something for everyone
There's a huge variety of board games available, and anyone can play. All ages can play together, and many disabilities can also be catered for.
14. There are both physical and mental health benefits
Game playing induces laughter and reduces stress, boosting the immune system and lowering blood pressure. Board games help us escape from worries and focus on something else. They bring balance and help us relax. Teenagers may want to spend a lot of time in their room, but taking time to play together reduces isolation.
How to encourage kids to play board games
To persuade children to play board games with you, play by yourself, or with another adult initially, and set yourself up to be discovered. Show your enthusiasm for the game - focus on playing and deliberately ignore your children for a bit. You'll be surprised how fascinated they'll become with what you're doing.
Combine food and games together
Portable, quick games can interrupt the digitally-obsessed child. Don't ask, just start playing and see what happens. If you try to get an agreement about playing and a consensus about which game to play, you'll probably never get started. Catch them unawares and hook them in with brilliant games. Deal out cards with dinner - lure them with food and capture them with a game.
Invest in good looking games
Games that look good and have lovely components draw people in. Make it hard for your children to walk away by setting up a game that looks like it'll be a real treat to play. Make the offline world irresistible and it'll rival the online one.
Make game night a ritual
Create family rituals around playing games. Stock up on special game-night snacks, whack on tunes, and create an environment which makes your children feel like they belong.
Ask friends and family to join you for a games evening, and invite people your children respect. If everyone shows enthusiasm about playing, it'll rub off.
Make games accessible
Get games out of the cupboard and display them prominently. Exposure to board games will normalise game playing.