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Let's Play a Game: Creative ways to keep kids happy at the table, on a hike, or in the car

If your kids are anything like mine, they can hardly sit still for an entire family meal, they complain on long car rides, and they act like dying snails on the shortest of hikes. In this series, you'll learn several games that take the "I'm bored" out of otherwise boring moments.

The first step is to know your family culture around games. So before diving into the games, make sure you set the stage for success by asking yourself these questions first:

Who goes first? And how will you decide?

Don't let a competitive sibling spoil the game before it starts. Agree on a way to decide who goes first. Here are a few ideas:

  1. Rock, paper, scissors

  2. Youngest always goes first

  3. Whoever has the soonest birthday

  4. Whoever had the idea to play chooses who goes first, but can't choose themself.

How will you handle a mid-game meltdown?

It won't always happen, but having a plan puts you two steps ahead. Depending on your child's developmental stage, temperament, and relationship with competition you might get whining, tantrums, or in my case, a kid who sabotages the game because he's not winning. Agree from the get-go. If a meltdown occurs, the plan is to ____________ (fill in the blank). Some ideas to consider:

  1. Divide and conquer. If you have a second parent, they can help the upset child.

  2. Empathize. Try to see the game from your child's (developmental) point of view and be on their side.

  3. Team up with your child so they know you have their back.

  4. Abandon the game and find a new one.

Don't let your game turn into a parenting brouhaha, where you get angry and your child feels defeated. If it's not fun, it's not working, and it's time to change course.

Are there winners and losers?

The best games are inconsequential and quick. They have no clear ending point and there are multiple chances for small wins and even smaller losses. Nobody should get eliminated. Second chances are always available, and teachable moments abound. You'll be able to role model empathy, being a good sport, and keeping things lighthearted.


In this series, I'll teach you how to play a variety of games, what skills they develop, and how to adapt the game for different age groups. If there's a game your family loves, contact me and maybe we can feature it in the series.

Meanwhile, try these:


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