It’s evening and you’re home from work, or weekend and there’s a full allotment of chores and jobs to be done. And your child asks that you play a game with him. You might think that I’m busy and there’s too much to do. I can’t spend the time here so he’ll have to play video games/in his room/ etc. Bear in mind that as a parent, playing with your child is one of your most important tasks. Apart from the creation of emotional bonds and spending of "quality time", there are practical benefits for both of you.
First, you get an opportunity to see how he’s developing in a number of ways. How well does he learn the rules and flow of play? How does he handle early forms of adversity when the game doesn’t go the way that he’d like? Does he cheat – and trust me, most do after a certain age – and how does he respond to your handling of the consequences of cheating? Is he picking up habits or phrases from other children as they play games at school? If it’s a game that he knows but you don’t, how well does he teach you?
Consequently, he gets some practical insights into life. What happens when someone catches you cheating? For that matter, does he even know that it’s wrong to change the rules in the course of the game? That sounds simplistic, but if the children are only learning from playing with other children and not adults who might hold them accountable, then do they really learn honesty and accountability? Does he have someone help him with some higher level thought processes, such as choosing between competing alternatives?
This was brought home to me this weekend by my first grader, who found a box of Old Maid cards in a Santa stocking from a tree lighting ceremony. It was a cheap deck and would’ve cost no more than $1.50. As I glanced at the paper with my coffee and considered the list of chores, he asked if we could play a round of this new game. I demurred and then reconsidered and wound up playing four hands with him. What did we get to work on in Old Maid?
- Each set of cards was labelel with the names of characters. We practiced putting the dealt cards in alphabetic order to assure ease of matching as the game progressed.
- What happens when he has the Old Maid card and tries to foist it off on Dad? His attempts to shift the cards around so that I chose that particular card only doomed him. Watch what people do and that will give you clues as to where things really are. Match that against what they really say. He even learned a poker term, "the tell".
- Pay attention to detail, because it’s good to know where the Old Maid card was placed if your opponent took it and you don’t want to get it back.
- Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. Unfortunate, but true.
- What are the consequences when you decide to unilaterally change the rules? Life isn’t a round of Calvinball and others will object.
After four rounds of this, I closed up that activity and moved on to the chores. But the activity was invaluable and gave each of us new insights and information that we didn’t have before.
And the chores still managed to get done.