Friday, April 8, 2011

How to Get Your Kids to Play Games With You

Does the idea or having a game night with your family conjure up images of fights, talking back and whining?  Do you think that a fun family game night is something that only happens on t.v?  Do you feel bad for even thinking about how awful it might be?  Or do you worry that your children will say they're bored and want to go play video games instead? Well, don't despair because you are not alone!  Many parents feel skeptical about such events and avoid them because they don't know how to deal with challenges (or less than perfect results) but don't give up because you CAN have a successful family game night using these ideas.

First of all, remember that a kid's job is to challenge.  Challenging ideas is how they learn to be independent (which is actually an important part of development).  In fact, most children begin using the word "no" before any other word when they are first learning to talk. Allowing your child to use their independence at appropriate times (while being respectful) is essential for allowing them to develop their ego and feel in control.  Here's an example.  When you ask your child if he wants to play a game with you and he says "no"
Here are some tricks to get things rolling...

1.  Avoid asking open ended questions (ex. Do you want to...") instead, give options.  Allow your child to be "in charge" and part of the decision making.  Giving children options is a great way to allow them to feel part of the process.  Make sure you think ahead and give options that are realistic and appropriate (and if you are trying to spend quality time, having t.v as an option is probably not a good idea!)

2.  Assess the situation.  There are times when a child might question if a parent truly wants to spend time with them or has another motive in mind (IE. Dad only wants me to play baseball with me because he wants me to be the best player on the baseball team." or "Mom has been away for work trips and thinks work is more important than me so why is she trying to play with me now?"

I know these thoughts might sting but addressing them (and being honest) is the only way to move forward.  If this might be the case for you, get down on your child's level and ask them why they seem unhappy.  Avoid a lengthy conversation because they may not be able to identify their feelings but open the door so that they are able to talk to you and feel like you CARE about how they feel.  Then, allow your child a chance to feel sad but (if needed) but play the game anyway so they have to opportunity to jump in when they feel comfortable.  They may need a little space and want to be the one to decide if they participate or not.

3. Don't be surprised if they are resistance.  Every child is different and every child challenges at different times (especially as they approach the teen years!).  Often, it's hard to decide weather your child is just being resistant or being disrespectful.  I remember my mom having game night when we were younger and we would roll our eyes and say, "I'd rather be playing with friends!" (but the truth was I really enjoyed myself!) Also, our friends would be jealous and want to come over and participate!  Now, we look back with great memories and appreciate those special times with family!
 4.  Don't go crazy trying to find the PERFECT activity.  I have encountered many parents who say, "My child just doesn't like crafts", or "My child doesn't like sports."  To me, these statements are a child's way of trying to control the parent.  Even though the activity may not be your child's favorite, it doesn't mean they can't enjoy it!  Try to keep your child's interest in mind (IE. Making a Dora craft if they like Dora) but don't go crazy trying to please them, the important thing is having quality time together!

5.  Avoid punishment.  Unless your child is making disrespectful comments, don't give a time out or send them to their room for not wanting to participate in the game.  If they do begin making disrepectful comments, give them non emotional warnings, then follow through with consequences (of course, don't forget to follow up with a conversation about what happened following the time out or consequence for behavior). 

6.  Praise them.  After you finish the game or activity with your child, make sure you take a moment or two to put your hand on their shoulder and thank them for the time and let them know you really enjoyed it!  No matter how old your child is, they need to hear these reminders!!

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