On Monday, parents in Alberta, Ontario and Saskatchewan get the day off to indulge in provincially regulated family bonding time – what better occasion to turn off the video console, dust off the Snakes and Ladders and gather round the table for a fun and tear-free family game night?
Time it out in advance
Choosing an ideal game has a lot to do with the age of your kids as well as general levels of activity (or hyperactivity) in your household. If your son can't sit still for more than two minutes on a good day, don't assume it's going to be different when you break out the Candyland board. If this is your situation, you might be wise to consider quick hits like Operation or Hungry, Hungry Hippos (both classics for a reason).
That said, regular board games may be a good way to combat attention deficit issues. "With all the video games and other electronics these days, kids just aren't used to focusing for long periods of time," says childhood development expert Roberta Golinkoff, adding that once a game has been agreed on, parents should encourage children to hang in to the end.
For kids under 7 (give or take a year depending on maturity levels), avoid games that go on for hours. Either that or impose your own "end" with a time limit: "Tonight we are going to play for 20 minutes and whoever is ahead when time is up is the winner."
Patience is a virtue
Even better than the many scholastic benefits of board-game play are the opportunities to enforce skills like teamwork, patience and sharing. "Our children don't learn how to be good people from the air," notes Dr. Golinkoff, explaining that constant explanation of what is right and wrong is how children come to understand basic notions of morality and how to treat other people. "If a child is taking someone else's turn or laughing at another player's misfortune, you want to interject quickly, saying something like, 'That's not nice. How would you feel if you had to move back 10 spaces?'" Kids need to be able to understand on their own terms, so reversing a negative action is a good trick.
In terms of rule breaking and cheating, ensure that a child is at the right stage to learn the lesson in question. "Preschoolers are not going to understand rules and cheating," in which case you don't want to have a lot of negative associations. "If you do, they won't want to play the next time," says Dr. Golinkoff.
Good losers/gracious winners
There is nothing wrong with a healthy sense of competition. The fact that board games generally have a victor is part of what makes them such effective learning tools. "Encourage your kids to celebrate their own wins, but also to be sympathetic to players that didn't win," says Dr. Golinkoff. Repeating phrases like "Way to go, Molly. This time you won. Maybe next time, Beth or Jerry will win," can help to make sure the message is absorbed.
To this point, be sure to incorporate at least some games of luck (The Game of Life, Sorry, Snakes and Ladders) into the family roster, along with games of skill where the tweenage players (and of course the parents) have a significant advantage.
Which brings us to the big question: Should you let your kids win? "I don't think you have to, but as a parent, you want to play the game with your children's enjoyment as the main goal," says Dr. Golinkoff. For example, in a game of Scrabble, restrict your play to words all players are familiar with. Alternatively, two adult households can play in teams so that grownups can indulge their own competitive spirits – though remember that the whole point is to set a good example, so avoid heckling, cheating and excessive fist pumping at all times.
And don't do this: Think that a board game always has to be a sedentary experience. Every household should have at least one Twister board.
Special to The Globe and Mail