There are so many reasons to step away from the distractions of busy life, or un-busy quarantine, and have a family game night. Not only is it fun, but it is developing and building oodles of skills that our kids need. From communication skills to relationship development, playing games with others works our brain "muscle" in so many ways. Board games can encourage healthy brain development in kids and teens and for older adults playing games improves attention and working memory. Whether we are one year old or ninety-nine, research, and studies show significant emotional and cognitive gains for children, maintaining sharpness and decreasing risk of Alzheimer's in adults and promoting healing and memory of aging adults.
So let's look at a few of the incredible reasons you should plan a family game night sooner rather than later.
Good Way to Unplug
You are getting your children (and yourself) off the screens! Now more than ever, families are struggling to find a balance in the digital world. What was already a thief of our family time pre-pandemic; screen time is not just gaming or social media in our leisure time; our children have had to adapt to screens for school, entertainment, and socializing. Adult screen time is up, too, with more work from home, meetings and appointments, and socialization in place of one-on-one interactions. Challenge your kids and yourself to make the family game time a device-free zone. Have everyone silence their notifications or turn off their devices and collect them in a basket until the game is over. While it may be a struggle for us to think about what we might be missing or even sit with the uncomfortable feeling of not having our device, out of sight, out of mind is a real thing! Make sure to turn off the television or cut other distractions out also. Leading by example by "unplugging" as parents send your child a message, "there is nothing as important as you right now," "I like spending time with you," "you have my undivided attention." As caregivers, we can be as easily distracted by devices, emails, and calls as our kids; putting down the phone allows us to engage with them more easily and sets everyone at ease. Mark your calendars for screen-free week, May 3-9, 2021. Have a family challenge to see who can go the longest without a device or screen in their free time. Plan activities as a family that week and write them on your calendar to keep you busy!
Sitting down together and playing a game encourages family unity and bonding. With busy lives and activities, carving out time for game night or family time shows your kids that spending time together is essential. No matter what your family might look like, friends, cousins, neighbors, grandparents, setting aside time to be with each other encourages us to connect face to face. Positive family relationships help children to feel secure and loved. When we are spending quality time with one another, it helps encourage positive conflict resolution and communication. And yes, sometimes it can be difficult for siblings to spend time together, especially if there are competitive feelings; but parents can use these occasions as unique teaching moments. Some families might need to lay down some ground rules for family game night. Make some rules as a family and get the kids involved in the process. Probably most important in planning a family game night is knowing your audience. Think of your child's strengths and weaknesses. Do they have a short attention span, or do they need a game that will keep them engaged? There are so many amazing games available to families now that one will surely suit your family. Consider cooperative games (where there is no winner) to games with a preset number of turns, those that are story-driven, wacky, or involve lots of movement. Legacy staff can help you find the perfect game for your family's needs.
Game nights provide lots of fun and laughter. And guess what? The saying, "laughter is the best medicine," is scientifically accurate. Laughter is super duper healthy for your body and mind. When we laugh, our bodies release infection-fighting antibodies, strengthening our immune system. Endorphins that counteract stress hormones are released when we laugh, lowering blood pressure. Having a good laugh is also a great distraction from what's happening all around us, and when we are laughing, we aren't thinking about work, bills, or what's on the news. Finally, laughter is a great healer; it can help repair disagreements by breaking the tension and releasing those stress hormones. Maybe the manufacturers of the poo and fart games are onto something!
Playing games with others is great for children that are shy or reserved. In almost every game, there is the opportunity to decide which card to play, what strategy to use, or even what color to pick! Making those choices frequently in games increases decision-making skills. A child who struggles with a choice; can use games as "practice" usually decide a game will be less stressful for a child than having to choose elsewhere, strengthening those decision-making skills, independence and confidence.
Yes, playing games can be a learning tool. Many studies have found children learn best through play. The brain is like a muscle; the more it exercises, the more it can do. Researchers found playing board games twice a week increased the brain speed scores of elementary students by 27-32%! Games or puzzles at any age stimulate areas of the brain important for cognitive skills, memory, and complex ideas. Playing games helps develop the brain's frontal lobes, which are responsible for executive function skills, such as planning, organizing, and making good decisions. Many board games have beautiful graphics or themes teaching geography, science, math, and reasoning without our kids even knowing.
Builds Social Skills
When we play games together, we communicate both verbally and non-verbally with facial expressions and body language. During turn-taking, children are learning how to work together successfully. Not only that, but also learning patience and tolerance when things don't go your way. Don't be discouraged if your child struggles with this piece; we can best help them through gentle guidance and modeling. Naming emotions is excellent for young kids, helping them identify that they might be feeling mad and okay to feel upset if they lost. Problem solve some tools with them that might help them work through it successfully. Would you like a hug? Let's jump and down ten times and do five jumping jacks. Count backward from 10. Would they like to do a calming activity like reading a book or color? Having these learning opportunities at home sets your child up for success as they grow older.
Board games can help your child build confidence, strengthen relationships, and improve cognitive skills. There are so many pros to game night, the only con might be deciding what game to play! Don't feel like you need to overcomplicate game night. Even board games like Monopoly, Chutes, and Ladders, and Tic Tac Toe are teaching our kids invaluable skills, and no, not just that a get out of jail free card is a bonus when the only thing you need is to pass go, collect $200 and build another house! Consider inviting extended family or neighbors over for game night. You can even start a neighborhood board game or puzzle swap. Rotate games throughout the neighborhood or with friends and family to try new games. Ask friends what games their kids are playing and why they love them. Game night is a great way to make memories with our children, make it a weekly routine, write it in on the calendar, and make a favorite family dish or order in from your favorite local restaurant. And most importantly, have fun!