We CAN survive board games with our kids.
Tykes seem to have unlimited energy. As kids morph into teens, the frenetic level of energy diminishes, but it surges when they’re presented with an activity they love.
And they expect us to keep up.
Providing fun for kids with trauma requires even more than the usual amount of parental stamina.
When our children came to us, they embodied the focus of a hummingbird crossed with the energy of a Jack Russell terrier. They wanted to play constantly and their need for attention was all-powerful.
Like twin black holes, they absorbed our energy with ferocious intensity. No matter how hard we played or how long we interacted, they demanded more.
In desperation, we searched for a creative option to provide the attentiveness they craved while providing simultaneous relief of our exhaustion.
Hubby and I both have fond childhood memories of board games.
Board games! Of COURSE!!
We’d help them gain some focus while happily bonding as a family.
I look back at the seven-years-ago-us and shake my head. We were so earnest and adorable…
We tried Sorry, a board game with fairly easy play: pick a card and follow the directions. Get your pieces around the board and safely home.
Oh, and if another person’s game piece lands on the same spot as one of your pieces, the player yells, “SORRY!” and you get booted back to Start.
No big deal. How often could that possibly happen?
It could possibly happen a LOT.
Every time one of their pieces ended up back at Start, the kids lost it.
After thirty excruciating minutes (because I still clung to the ridiculous idea that good moms make kids finish what they begin), I started mis-counting my spaces to ensure I did not send a kid back to Start. (You perhaps call this cheating…I call it a technicality.)
The game concluded in frustration and tears.
We didn’t touch another board game for two years.
If we’d been aware of a few semi-simple principles, that night may have ended with different results.
HYPERVIGILANT GAME GUIDELINES
Only play as long as EVERYONE is having fun.
Set this expectation with the adults: it’s unlikely your trauma kids will make it through a full game without some drama.
If the game needs to end, don’t judge or shame the individual(s) responsible. If possible, shut it down before the situation devolves completely.
Say something like, “well, this has been a LOT of fun, but I really have to get back to ______. Let’s play again another time!” Then (with their involvement if possible), pack up the game. If they complain about ending the game, say with a smile, “I KNOW, it was so FUN! Want to play tomorrow?”
Stay as upbeat as possible; keep the mood light. Avoid making the game-end feel like a punishment. Be as nonchalant as possible and don’t allow yourself to be drawn into an argument.
GOAL: Associate only positive feelings with game play.
Start with an INSANELY easy game.
Choose games intended for a younger population. If your child is 7-10, select a game with a suggested age of 3-5. The goal is a gradual introduction to the idea of playing and working together. If you worry about insulting intelligence, hide the box.
GOAL: Introduce the idea that games are FUN.
EFF the rules.
And by “F,” I mean FORGET.
In the house where I grew up, we opened the box, set up the game and then—before touching anything else—we read the rules together. Even if we’d played the game for years, we read them anyway. Rules were part of the tradition. The ritual.
Most trauma kids won’t endure rule reading.
By the time you get to, “collect $200,” they’ll be rolling around on the floor or test-fitting a game piece in a random orifice.
Take a look at the rules beforehand; ensure you have a general grasp of game flow. Follow the ones that make sense for your crew. Ditch the rest.
GOAL: Hold their interest and get the game moving right away.
Simplify the game, including game aspects as appropriate.
(My apologies to the purists. Grit your teeth. It’s for the kids.)
Eliminate areas of the game which require too much of your children. Some game versions include additional requirements—jettison anything interfering with smooth play.
—In a card game, play with the minimum number of cards necessary to run the game.
—In a game with multiple pawns, like Trouble, limit the number of pawns to 1 or 2.
—In games like Monopoly, leave out one or more extraneous parts of play (e.g., purchasing properties or buildings, paying rent). Keep the parts (e.g., roll dice, move silver dog) your kids can easily handle.
GOAL: Start with very basic play. As kids become used to the rhythm and are able to handle more, increase the options.
Add a third pawn to Sorry, then a fourth. Try adding the money component back to the Monopoly game. Play with a full deck.
Don’t get competitive.
In many ways, learning to lose is more important than learning how to play. Don’t allow game night to become World War III.
Learning to play means taking turns, being polite even when losing, making eye contact, finding ways to communicate, touching someone without hurting them or being hurt and learning that “I didn’t win” doesn’t mean “I will never find success.”
Once, after her younger brother won two games of Uno in a row, our girl (seven at the time) had a screaming meltdown.
“HE WINS EVERYTHING! I WILL NEVER BE AS GOOD AS HE IS!!!” The tantrum escalated as her mental state deteriorated.
“NO ONE LIKES ME AND EVERYONE LIKES HIM AND I NEVER DO ANYTHING RIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIGHT…!!!!”
The flip-out had very little to do with the game.
It had everything to do with her self-perception.
Although her ability to think with logic at that age was limited, we were able to help her recognize her feelings and show her we cared. It also gave us great insight to her thought process.
GOAL: Keep in mind, the game is not about winning. It’s an opportunity to learn your kid.
Don’t Give Up.
Success is unlikely to happen overnight. We spent several years slowly building the game mentality. Especially for kids with limited social skills, board games are important. If you encounter opposition, limit tries to once a week. Attempt different types of games. Every kid is different, but almost all children like to play. The difference between “almost all children” and ours? Most of ours have to LEARN to have fun. To relax enough to enjoy themselves. To trust the adults.
Game play is therapeutic and is an important learning experience for our kids.
GOAL: Don’t lose sight of the end result: the children are absorbing important lessons which will equip them for life.
I hope these lessons we learned on a difficult road will help you have a better time “having fun” than we did.
Try a Game Night this Friday
Let me know how it goes…may all your dice roll 6 and all your pieces make it Home!