How to Effectively Play with your Children

Kids playing tag with the au pair.
Kids playing tag with the au pair.

As a trained professional that works with children all day long, one of my jobs is to “play” with the children for some portion of their time. The other day as I was doing this with one of the children, I realized how much more fun I was having doing this now than I had previously experienced back when it wasn’t my job to do so.

I then started to observe how some parents play board games with their children and also noted how many more computer games children play today rather than going out to jump rope or play ball. 

Some parents will play games with their children and truly seem to enjoy it, but for them the game is no challenge. I sometimes even see the parents dumb down the game for themselves in order to give their child the win.  And of course giving your child a win is very important.  But having them win every single time isn’t much of a game either (for them or you). 

So I thought I would pass along the benefit of my experience and exactly what can be achieved in the playing of games. 

What Does a Game Consist Of?

First I would like to point out that in days of old “Play” was children imitating their parents working or sports.  Little girls played with dolls and caring for a family, boys played they were doctors, farmers etc.  Then there were games like ball and made up board games.  In noticing this, I looked to see what life lessons can be learned in playing cards and board games and even soccer, foosball, etc.

Let’s start with some very, very simple games of supposedly complete chance such as Candyland or Chutes & Ladders.  At first glance, you would see that you pick a card or spin the wheel and make your move.  It is all a game of luck; that is, unless you teach your child about how to control a game through decision and determination. 

L. Ron Hubbard‘s definition of a game is: 

A game consists of freedoms, barriers and purposes. It also contains control and uncontrol.” [Reference:  The Problems of Work]

To understand this, let me first go over each component part of a game.  All games are intrinsically made up of having a goal and a purpose for play (to reach that goal).  One must have barriers to overcome in order to attain that goal, while also having some freedoms.  Freedoms would include knowing the rules, knowing which spaces you can occupy and which ones are in fact barriers and what the spaces surrounding the barriers are that you can use to maneuver around.  When there are no barriers and attaining the goal is too easy, the game has not enough action. It becomes boring because too many freedoms exist.  Where there are too many barriers or when you are so focused on the barriers that you can’t see the spaces to maneuver around them, reaching the goal can become too difficult.  The person starts to take losses and the game no longer is fun.

This in itself is something to teach your child.  If they win all the time, it becomes no game.  Also, it stands to reason that when a child is very young, choosing a game of chance will give the child more of a game without it being overwhelming. Therefore, with children of about 3.5-5 years of age these are the kinds of board or card games you should choose.

If, when the child loses, they become very upset or sad, this is the time to teach them about games and what makes a good game and what makes a no-game.  If they cannot grasp that concept, they might be too young for the game.  You should point out to them that utilizing this lesson in games will carry them through life. Everything they undertake to achieve is in fact a goal which has barriers to overcome and freedoms to observe. 

Once they have this down, you can take up the whole concept of knowing and visualizing themselves attaining their goal.  This is something that professional athletes have used for years.

L.Ron Hubbard goes over this in the subject of Postulates.  A postulate is “…a conclusion, decision or resolution made by the individual himself, to conclude, decide or resolve a problem or to set a pattern for the future or to nullify a pattern of the past.” [ref]

Whether we realize it or not, we make postulates frequently each day.  How many times did you wake up, look out the window, saw rain and thought, “Bad day.” And then you actually had a bad day. That is a postulate – not a very positive one, but a postulate nevertheless. It stands to reason then if we can make negative postulates and they stick, what if we practiced causatively making POSITIVE postulates about our day, our goals and our lives?  How can we hone that skill so that the majority of these positive postulates actually come to fruition?

One way I teach children this is by taking a game of chance; let’s take Chutes & Ladders, a favorite amongst little children (but you can use this in any card or board game or sport really).  For those of you who are not familiar with the game, there are board pieces (that look like children) for each person playing.  Each player has one piece.  Then you spin a dial and it tells you how many spaces to move.  If you land on a ladder you get to go up the ladder and by-pass many spaces to travel through.  If you land on a chute then you slide down the chute sometimes sliding down just a few rows, sometimes sliding down to the bottom.  

With this game, I have the child decide where they want their player to land… for instance if they get a number 1 on the spin they go up a ladder. They can also go up a ladder on number 4, but if they get a number 6 on the spin… then they have the opportunity on the next spin to land on a ladder that reaches even higher on the board. 

I have had people tell me, “…but what if they don’t get the number they decided to get?”  Well, first of all, we never put it there that they won’t get the number they spun for.  In their thoughts and intentions they KNOW they got it.  And many times they do.  This is a win!  So within a game they get to practice this “eliminating doubt” from their decisions and to have many wins within one game, not just one – i.e. you win or lose a game. 

But then what happens when they do KNOW and spin and then they don’t get their number?  Then you help them to find out what was “out” (missing).  Did they have a small doubt?  Was their estimation of effort on how hard to spin the dial off?  Do they understand what intention is and really intend with knowingness instead of with effort for the needle dial to land on the correct number?  Did they stay confident and put their decision there on each spin that they have the number they decide, or did they go sliding down the band of emotions themselves into anger, gloom, hopelessness? Staying confident and interested is the only way to get what one wants.

Also, I always go over with them in a new unit of time that if they do lose, it is a game after all. If one wins every time, the game would become boring to them.  It is OK to lose sometimes and when they do, it challenges them and it gives them the opportunity to practice the above skills.

Lastly, what do you do when they get so good at this that they win all the time and it does get boring? Trust me, it happens!!! The usual thing most people do is they start to make mistakes to make it more of a game.  If I notice this happening, I make sure they know that it is always better to make or find a better, more challenging game than it is to start going down the emotional tones trying to make this “more of a game.” It teaches them that it is all right to give yourself that win and to make new goals rather than create a rut for yourself. 

This  along with teaching them the skills within the game itself have proved to be important in giving the children confidence and the willingness to put themselves out there, to try for the impossible!

It also makes it really fun for me, as I not only get to see them win at this but also I get to practice my skills as well!

I hope you find this useful and have fun with your children every day!

Wishing you joy,

Diane DiGregorio Norgard
Mace-Kingsley Family Center


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