Using Games for Social/Emotional Development

Getting Real With Tonia Caselman

While it may seem old fashioned, playing board games and card games with your kids is a great way to spend time together. Not only are you creating positive memories for them, you are enhancing the bond between you.

Enjoying each other’s company through a fun activity builds cohesion, communication and trust. And, as if that weren’t enough, board games also teach all kinds of valuable social, academic and life skills. Simply by playing games, children learn important competencies such as counting, reading, paying attention, following rules, taking turns, listening, waiting, recognizing boundaries, being a good loser and a gracious winner, etc. Games also teach perseverance – just when you think you are losing, your luck can change if you just stay in the game a few minutes longer! Here are a few traditional games and some of the skills that they teach:

  • Monopoly® – teaches reading, budgeting skills, reasoning, and patience
  • Scrabble® – enhances spelling, language skills and strategy skills
  • Chess and checkers – teach thinking ahead, impulse control, and strategy
  • skills
  • Sorry® – teaches how to be assertive about one’s own needs and handle set
  • backs
  • Bop It® – reinforces attention and listening skills
  • Connect Four®teaches strategy, delayed gratification, and dealing with
  • frustration
  • Clue® – trains attention and deductive reasoning
  • Chutes and Ladders® – teaches counting and handling disappointments

In addition to these traditional board games, there are also uniquely designed games that assist children who may be struggling with various social, emotional, or behavioral challenges. It used to be that these games were only available to mental health professionals, but more and more therapists are recommending these games to families. After all, it doesn’t take a PhD to play a game! These specialized, “therapeutic” games address issues such as impulse control, worry/anxiety, grief, divorce, anger, self-esteem, social skills, bullying, etc.

Through game play children learn important coping, problem-solving and communication skills. Parents who cannot afford therapy or who want an adjunct to their child’s current therapy – or who just want to be proactive in preventing social/emotional/behavioral problems – will appreciate the use of therapeutic games. Children often let down their guard as they play, thereby creating opportunities for more genuine and informative communication to take place. Children (like all of us) do not appreciate being lectured to, so games are a wonderful way for parents to get healthy information across to their kids without the nagging (or is that just me?). And, as therapeutic games offer suggestions for how to handle various problems, parents can refer back to these game elements when those day-to-day, in-the-moment problems arise.

There are several hundred therapeutic games but here are some examples in the categories of self-control, family issues, and social skills.

Games that promote self-control

The Impulse Control Game

Remote Control Impulse Control

The Angry Monster Machine

Stop, Relax, and Think

Look Before You Leap

Games that promote family functioning

My Two Homes

The Changing Family Game

The Upside Down Divorce Game

Family Quest: A Family Therapy Board Game

Family Happenings

Games that promote social competence

Boundaries Baseball

Circle of Friends

The Social and Emotional Competence Game

Circle of Respect

Understanding Faces Game

The downside of these games is that sometimes they can be costly. For inexpensive, downloadable therapeutic games that can be electronically saved and printed from your own printer, go to the author’s Facebook page.