Family Game Night: A Survival Guide

Everyone talks about wanting more family time. But, let’s be honest -not all family time is created equal.  Just like sushi in the Midwest, family time can be surprisingly good or monumentally bad.

For example…

  • Good family time: An hour spent taking the kids out for ice cream on a warm summer’s night.
  • Bad family time: An hour spent stuck in traffic while your four-year old plays a marathon game of “I’m not touching you,” with her unwilling older brother.
  • Good family time: An afternoon strolling around the zoo looking at animals, eating over-priced snacks, and riding the carousel.
  • Bad family time: An evening in the ER explaining to your children why throwing a belt over a ceiling fan, does not make it “just like the carousel at the zoo.”

But there is one family activity that usually falls firmly into Good Family Time territory and that is having a family game night. It’s easy, it’s cheap, and it’s not likely to end you in the ER.

Just follow the principal: If you plan it, they will come. Set a date, pick a game, and play. It’s pretty simple.

But sometimes, it isn’t.

Those of us who have children of an age where the art of sportsmanship is still being developed, know of whence I speak. For this segment of the population, I offer a few tips that may help avoid some potential family game night pitfalls.

Cheating will probably be an issue.

Look, I don’t know you and I don’t know your kids. Maybe your kids would never in a million years even consider withholding their 4’s in Go Fish or pretending they didn’t ‘understand’ what the Community Chest card said. But there are some kids out there who will. I’m not here to judge. But it’s best to decide beforehand what your policy on cheating is so that when it happens you are prepared to deal with it in such a way as not to ruin the entire evening.

And it isn’t just kids who cheat. We adults often bend the rules while playing games with our kids – not usually to win, but to either allow the kids to win or to make the game shorter. This is understandable given that a well-played game of Chutes and Ladders can last longer than a round of golf. Just be aware that if you decide to move your red plastic gingerbread man ahead a few paces down the candy trail, you may get caught. So have you’re answer ready for this one too.

If you insist on following the rules, you may have a nervous breakdown.

Children, especially those under the age of seven, don’t like to follow the rules. They forget. They misunderstand. They simply do not care. This is a battle you can choose to fight or you can wave your white flag and let them make up some creative rules of their own. You may even find a way to make the game more fun – or perhaps if nothing else, shorter.

Someone at the table will have a meltdown if they don’t win.

Try not to overreact. My blood pressure goes up when my son cries after losing at Sorry because I’m picturing the twenty-year old version of him doing the same after a game of intramural soccer (thus signifying my complete failure as a parent). Better to stay calm and use the opportunity to teach your kid that all games have a winner and loser. Painful, though it may be, sooner or later we all have to learn that lesson.

My advice is to let them have their little tantrum, but when it’s over, make them shake hands and say “good game.” This accomplishes two important goals: It helps build your child’s character; and it allows you to spend the rest of the evening feeling smug and self-righteous as you mentally check-off “Teach life lesson” from your day’s to-do list.

You will want to win.

Traditionally, this scenario presents itself as your kids get older (after all, there is no glory in beating your five-year old at Memory).  But there may come a day when you are playing Monopoly with your darling son or daughter and you will enjoy, a little too much, watching them go bankrupt as they land on Boardwalk with your three hotels. It may be ugly, but it’s true.  Yesterday, I won a game of Apples to Apples we were playing as a family. I’ll admit – I wanted that ‘W.” I worked for it. I deserved it.  And when it was over, I may have forced them to call me The Apple Queen. (But only for like 15 minutes.)

Monkey see; Monkey say, “Too bad, so sad – I sank your battleship!”

I am referring here to trash talk. I realize that not everybody feels compelled to taunt their child during a game of Connect Four, but my husband certainly does and I’m here to tell you – it’s catching. My husband has always engaged our kids in good-natured, G-rated trash talk during games and as a result, whenever one of my kids beats me in anything from checkers to the bathroom first, they instinctively look at me and say, ‘Wa-wa-waaaaaaaa.” I’m not gonna lie – it stings a bit. So be prepared: if you start with the trash-talk, your child will be rubber and you will be glue and anything you say will bounce off him and stick to you.

You will have more fun than you think you will.

I can practically promise you that. Sitting around a table playing a board game with your family is almost retro in its simplicity, but therein lies its beauty. It is good, simple, inexpensive fun that not only holds possibilities for teaching your kids life lessons, but it also brings the family closer in ways you might not expect. So silence your cell phone, turn off the TV, shut down the computer, and plan an old-fashioned family game night. There will be lots of laughter, there may even be a few tears – but the best part is that if you’ve done it right, there will most certainly be a re-match.

3 Comments on “Family Game Night: A Survival Guide”

  1. Damommachef says:

    Ha! Our kids are spaced so far apart that it is really quite tricky trying to find a game everyone is happy with. Apples to apples is a good one, or even the old-fashioned game of hide-n-go-seek. The new Uno attack was amusing/

    Or just pack up and go to Disneyland! Woo Hoo!

  2. I justify my voracious desire to win by telling myself that Dimples needs to learn how to lose graciously.

  3. […] Family rock climbing with the The Kid Project 100 Family conversations at Aha! Surviving family game night at An Exercise in Narcissism […]

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