Monday 20 June 2016

Gaming with Kids #1: Children's Misbehaviour While Playing Board Games

Often, when I'm playing board games with my family, my children begin to behave inappropriately. They get angry, upset and often start to cry and this can be the start of a tantrum. The pleasant atmosphere is gone, and I'm starting to think of sending my kids to bed early. That's a scenario which everyone would like to avoid.

I started a thread on BGG to discuss the subject! I thought it is a good idea to know other people having the same challenges with children as mine and how they are dealing with the issues! I was positively surprised the way people responded to the thread! Thanks, guys!

I decided to put everything together, add some of my experiences as a father of six lovely children and write a helpful article!

When your child is misbehaving and feeling bad, try to look at the root of the frustration and address it as best as you can. Be aware, the most of the children don't have the emotional maturity to handle losing. It's essential to remember all the time - they are only kids!

Here are some reasons why a child gets upset while playing board games:
- Lost the game
- Someone else won the game
- Didn't receive a special trophy (even when won the game)
- Didn't make a winning move in a co-operative game
(even when the whole team won the game)
- Someone interrupted their plan
- Something unexpected or unfortunate happened
- Felt the game wasn't fair
- Doesn't like their meeple colour
- Another player has more cards, tokens (even when it doesn't make any difference in the game)
- Had a bad day
- Sometimes you don't know why!

1. Select developmentally appropriate, less advanced games
JP Legerski from the BGG forum explains: “Save games like Terra Mystica for when they are older and can understand the underlying strategies. This means playing less advanced games that you might not always prefer. Allowing your kids to have an enjoyable time with you is the most important thing here, even if it means playing countless games of UNO, Speed, and Tsuro.”

2. Show your children the joy of playing and spending time together, the joy of the journey even if the child is going to loose
- Talking about it and setting up a good example are essential!
- Say to your children how much you enjoyed the game.
- Express your happiness when someone else wins!
- Talk about the wonderful time spent together.

3. The important part of playing the board games is competing
Explain to your little ones that it's perfectly normal to want to win a game. However, explain to them that winning the game is not the most important part of the board gaming. Tell your children what is important to you while playing the game. It can be the time spent together, interesting strategic moves, the games mechanic or chill outing and relaxing time after a stressful day.

4. Positive emotions
- Encourage your children to be happy and cheer when someone else wins the game!
- Make sure everybody high-fives/fist-bumps everybody else during and at the end of the game.
- Make sure everyone during and at the end of the game says: “good game”, “good move”, “nice try”.
- Complement, congratulate your children on their gameplay, no matter if they win or lose.

5. Talk about how to overcome a problem
When something goes wrong use the opportunity to talk about it, suggest how to overcome that problem. It is an excellent opportunity to practice problem-solving skills. Point out the source of the problem, show them the problem as a challenge, not something bad. Talk about how it can be solved, give them some examples to follow!

6. Play shorter games to give everyone chance to win
Playing shorter games should help children learn that any individual loss is not something to cry about. You might let a smaller child win the series at first then play tougher as you see them taking their losses with better grace.

7. Avoid the betrayal mechanics
A small child will hardly understand why someone has betrayed him. It is emotionally almost impossible to bear for him.

8. Play co-operative or team games
Some children will take a lost easier when they are not the only person losing the game. When you win - all players win, that's great as well! Being a part of a team will motivate children, make them feel important and safe! That will make them want to play again! When I was a child, I loved co-operative games because I knew no one is gonna hurt me or betray me. The most favourite thing about this kind of games was the idea of working together in a team to accomplish the goal!

9. Play games with a high luck factor
Most people will recommend this group of games as an excellent choice for children. Even Monopoly and snake & ladders are popular among board game geek parents! However, some people will suggest different games and definitely will give others advice to avoid those titles! It is worth trying how they are going to work for you.

10. Taking a handicap
Handicapping is probably the most controversial point of all! Remember - winning needs to be earned!

- A formal handicapping - Robert Bracey from BGG forum describes formal handicapping: “I was taught chess by my father who played without his queen. When I won, the handicap went down to a rook - then a bishop, knight. Ultimately, I could win if I had a handicap so we played regular games (I did not win after that)”

- A natural handicapping - MentatYP from BGG forum explains that natural handicapping is based on selecting games with appropriate game mechanisms, strategies, etc., instead of playing poorly on purpose. Choosing the right games will give a child a fighting chance to win.

11. You can always put the game away!
Here is another great thought, this time by Chris Laudermilk: “Now, when they start to get too frustrated I suggest maybe we put the game away and do something else for a while. It's about a 50/50 split of them pulling it together in order to continue playing and deciding maybe going outside to run around might be a better idea. Either way, I go with the flow, and if it's put the game away even mid-play, it's no big deal.

And some thoughts by Nicolette Tanksley: “If we have a tantrum about something in the middle of the game, that child sits out for a minute or we stop the game and remind how they should behave, depending on the level of the misbehaviour. I note again why we are playing games together...and also that no one wants to play games with someone who throws fits. Good behaviour means more games, more players, more fun. If the child has sat out a turn or so...and wants to play after controlling their behaviour... I let them try again.”

12. The “Play Mode”
Paul Brudz has had a great idea called “play mode”. That's how he describes it: “When I introduced my nephews to board games (3-4 years old at the time) I would introduce a rule and require them to follow it for at least one turn. The moment they lost interest in the mechanic, I'd let them go into play mode, doing whatever they liked with the components (within reason). The next time they played I'd introduce a new rule and make them play at least one turn with all the rules they had learned up to that point. The moment they lost interest in the mechanics... back to play mode. Gradually their attention span would lengthen, and they would follow the rules until they lost interest in the game and wanted to do something else (not necessarily finishing the game). Eventually, they were interested in playing games to their conclusion.”

13. “Try again” type approach
Keep on practising. Your child can be upset first, second, third time... however, after time you will notice that his behaviour is changing!

14. A little job for a little player!
When a little child plays a game with you, give him a simple job to do like moving your character, putting the token back to the box, rolling the dice - everything based on your advice.

15. Focus on the journey, tell the story
Tell your children a colourful story that is part of what is happening in the game. Let the children feel the taste of adventure! JP Legerski said: "the journey is often more important than the end goal."

16. Behavior expectation
Nicolette Tanksley has a very good idea: “At the beginning of the gaming session, I go through the game rules and also the behaviour cheating, and the win/lose conditions. I remind everyone that board games are for fun and spending time with family. I say at the outset if one has a fit, then you won't play for a while. So everyone is pre-warned, expectation level set.”

Something to remember:
Please, note that all children go through the phase of having a hard time when losing or something don't goes how they planned it. Don't be too worried about it - it's absolutely normal! Remember that even silly things can upset children - like the colour of the meeple etc., so don't be surprised! Keep in mind, by staying calm you'll give them a good example!

Recently my daughter Wiktoria (8 Years old now) had a birthday! I bought her Indigo - the game designed by Reiner Knizia. This is a great game for my family! Even Marta (nearly five years old) played the game okay! The game works so well because of the possibility of team play. Each gate is owned by two people when four players in the game. When the player finishes the path and will get a gem, the other player also receives one! Always, at the same time two players gets the gem! I like that!

Do you have any other good ideas or advice?
Maybe you would like to recommend a good game?
I would love to hear from you!