Game Night: Family Bonding, Fun, and Education in One Enjoyable Evening

There are so many demands on families that the important things, including vital family bonding, sometimes take a back seat — and some families are fighting back with game night. It’s a tradition that accomplishes a lot in a short amount of time: Family members reconnect, younger children learn important social skills, and everyone gets to unplug from the chaos of the outside world. In addition, games that involve strategy and planning (e.g., Settlers of Catan, 7 Wonders, Ticket to Ride, My First Carcassonne, Castle Panic) help children develop the executive-function skills paramount to success in school and life. Dr. Bill Hudenko, a child psychologist, even uses this type of game in his practice to help diagnose and treat deficits in executive-function skills.

For a lot of people, the thought of creating a schedule, planning the activities, and spending a chunk of time doing nothing but playing games is intimidating. Others worry that older kids will resist or that younger kids will throw game pieces across the room. But game night doesn’t have to be stressful. If it is, you’re doing it wrong. Here are some tips to keep it fun for everyone:

  • Keep your expectations reasonable. Nothing takes the fun out of game night more quickly than grumbling teenagers or younger kids who keep whining, “How much longer?” — except for a parent who gets upset because game night didn’t go as planned. Keep your expectations reasonable. Don’t try to finish an entire game of Monopoly in one night, and don’t insist on teaching your kids chess if they’re not ready. Anticipate that pieces will get knocked off the board, somebody will cry when they lose, and the dog will steal someone’s snack. But family game night doesn’t have to be perfect. The only thing you have to accomplish is being together to relax, talk, and have fun.
  • Keep your expectations reasonable, part two. If your family is juggling jobs, homework, after-school activities, and household chores, don’t feel like you have to do family game night every week. It’s better to schedule it monthly than to schedule it every week and keep canceling.
  • Make it easy. Game night will be a lot more fun if everyone is relaxed instead of worrying about unfinished chores or how many math problems they can get done between turns. Set the mood by making sure kids finish their chores and homework early, and keep dinner simple so that cleanup is minimal.

If your kids are far apart in age, it can be challenging to come up with something that pleases everybody. One way to approach it is to team the youngest kids up with older siblings. Another approach is to play the more challenging games that older kids prefer and simply adapt the rules for the younger family members. But no matter what you play, the colder months are the perfect time of year to work on family bonding. What games do you have stashed in your attic? One of them is probably just right for launching your own family game night.

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