When kids play, they learn. And playing just for the sheer pleasure of it is fantastic. But at times, you may want to find games that teach lessons as well.
Here are some games you can play with your children to teach them social and emotional skills.
What would you do if . . .
This is a game where parents present hypothetical, age-appropriate situations that ask kids to consider how they might deal with difficult situations they face. For young kids you might ask whether it’s ever OK to lie. For a school-age child, you might say, “If you saw someone being bullied in the lunch room, and there were no adults around, what would you do?” Questions like these can be interesting to children and help develop their moral and ethical sensibility.
Switch roles with your child. You be your child, and let her be you. Mutual empathy can go through the roof when we simply see things through the eyes of another person. Yes, I said mutual empathy. It’s never bad for a parent to walk a mile (or even a few steps) in the shoes of her kids.
This classic youth-group game lets you emphasize the point that you’ll always be there for your child. Have her face away from you and fall backwards with her eyes closed, believing that you’ll catch her. Then talk (briefly) about what it means to really trust someone.
You can raise some interesting questions by complicating the normal rules of pretend play. For instance, if you’re the super-villain being chased by your child, the hero, you might fall down and pretend to have sprained your ankle. Your child must then consider whether and how to help someone, even if that person is the bad guy.
Why was that cashier rude?
When someone has been less than polite, play the “What caused that?” game. Simply asking the question can begin to create empathy, since the answers could range from “Maybe her mom never taught her to be polite” to “I wonder if something bad happened to one of her kids.”
In this variation on “Hide and Seek,” one person hides and the rest of the group tries to find him. As each subsequent person finds the hider, that person squeezes into the hiding place. Teamwork and cooperation are necessary to succeed.
Another “Hide and Seek” spinoff that requires people to work together. In this case, the seeker searches for the hiders, and when each person is found, she joins with the seeker to find the other hiders. With each subsequent “find,” the amoeba grows.
Show me what it looks like when you feel...
Ask your the child to act out different emotions, showing what feelings look like on our face and body. This can create an emotional vocabulary and also develop more self-awareness.
Guess how I’m feeling
This is a twist on the previous game. Here you act out a feeling and have your child guess your emotion. Again, empathy and emotional intelligence are the goals here.
Remember this one? Have the whole group sit in a circle, and pass along a message from one person to the next. Depending on the size of the group, you might want to go around twice. It can be hilarious to see how much the message changes as it’s passed from one person to the next. Use this as an opportunity to talk about the importance of communication and really listening.