Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Games for Children: Board Games and Child Development

Board Games for Kids

Latency-aged children, around the ages of six to eight, enjoy board games. Board games are a way for children to express their feelings and are typically a preferred style of communication over talking. Board games are a great way to bond with children while promoting mastery over the developmentally appropriate tasks of middle childhood. When playing board games, children learn patience and self control - to wait their turn, sit still, share, and manage their feelings - be it tolerating loss or exhibiting appropriate expressions of satisfaction by beating an opponent. Children, at this age, are also concerned with rules and structure and demonstrate varying styles of play, which may or may not follow what is written on the instruction box. 

How do children’s games offer insight into children’s inner worlds?

  • Game appropriateness: When children pick games that are developmentally appropriate, they demonstrate comfort with their sense of self. Games meant for a different age level may signal a wish to stay a toddler or a wish to grow up.
  • Game preference: Children may cling to a game that they find tried-and-true or find a variety of games appealing. Children who continue to pick the same game over and over generally find comfort in stability and find risk taking to be frustrating or anxiety provoking.
  • Game activity: When children enjoy games in which they are able to sabotage their opponents’ chances of winning, for instance, they are demonstrating their ability to tolerate feelings of aggression in themselves.
Playing games with children provides a glimpse into their approach to life. What is important to remember is that children may be working out feelings not related to the game during play so the reasoning behind their moves may mean more than following the actual rules. Some kids are unable to handle the structure of rules, cheat and/or wish to stop playing when they have to lose a turn or “go to jail.” These things serve as cues that risky situations, such as the ones in the games, may threaten a children’s self-esteem and may feel unbearable at the time. They also speak to children’s difficulty tolerating feelings of frustration and, perhaps, children’s need to experience a sense of control in the world around them.

When children know that their opponents can accept them feeling overwhelmed and can empathize with what it feels like to be in their situation, children are more likely to return to the game and ask to play again. Letting them play the way they wish will also allow them to develop their ability to play independently and eventually work through those potentially threatening situations they may not have been able to handle previously. When children feel the needed support and encouragement, they may win at the game, but you win as their caregiver.

Post by Asya Brodsky, LSW, CADC
Bellinson, J. (2000). Shut up and move: children’s use of board games in psychotherapy. Journal of Infant, Child and Adolescent Psychotherapy, 1(2), 23-41.

Bellinson, J. (2013). Games children play: Board games in psychodynamic psychotherapy. Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 22(2), 283-293