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Big night in with the family

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Bring back games to family life, it's good for bonding and memory building

This is the view of Richard Peterson, vice president of education at Kiddie Academy. It is a familiar drill. Exhausted after a harried day, we all – parent, tot, tween and teen alike – collapse in cosy, but lonely heaps, often in front of electronic screens.

Parents carry some collective guilt for allowing this to happen. “Without some intentional assertiveness, the pattern is likely to erode into grazing eating, isolated social media, or binge-watching moderately interesting shows while double-screening and having no meaningful interaction,” says Chris Gonzalez, who deals with marriage and family therapy.

But Gonzalez offers an alternative: “Family game nights can help to break the monotony.” Playing games with the family is a true bonding and memory-building experience, he says.

Think draughts, chess, UNO, Scrabble, Memory, Pictionary and of course, cards. (You all have those, yes?) Games, too, often tap into little-used skill sets of both parents and children.

“The left brain is the master of expressing itself logically, verbally and in written words. The right side expresses itself randomly, through rhythms, patterns and pictures,” says Susan Smith Kuczmarski, author of Becoming a Happy Family.

Picture: Hans Braxmeier/Pixabay

“Parenting, at least within our western society, has ignored this ‘right-brained’ way of thinking. But parenting is a whole-brain activity. Play that uses your whole brain draws your family together.”

If your family is the competitive sort, turn the tables and harness all those type-A tendencies in a joint project. “Playing… together, rather than against each other, can remove the stress of winning or losing,” Gonzalez says. 

“Think puzzles, Lego or Lincoln Logs.” Kuczmarski suggests buying a large blank canvas at a local art supply store or a large sheet of paper and having each member of the family illustrate or paint on a portion of the canvas.

“Hang the work of art in a visible location, such as near the kitchen table. Do this every New Year.” Be sure to date it, too. And it is possible to create family fun without any boards, material, or pieces.

“Spontaneous trivia is so underrated,” says Hillel Hoffmann, a dad who has played it with his now 17-year-old son for years. “It’s also been a subversive way to get a non-cranky window on what he’s doing at school as he smugly stumps us with what he’s learning.”

It is easy to tailor many games to your players. Think charades for small people, or play Find the Alphabet using book titles in your house. I Spy can also get extremely detailed – the purple button on ouma’s cuff in the portrait above the fireplace – if adults are playing. And Would You Rather can yield even more family information than trivia contests.

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