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Time well spent: playing board games with our kids!

Photograph of a game of Monopoly

“Can we play a family game?”

It’s a request we are getting more and more frequently in our house, particularly from Dames (our second child).

Quite often the request is made when the kitchen is a flurry of activity, pots and pans clanking, pasta sauce slopped in all directions and our youngest, Miss Gubby, is at her most vocal wanting to be fed. We try to say yes, but we can’t always.

On weekends we say “maybe, after we get through all our jobs” (dinner, baths, etc).

The other difficulty we face now is that Miss Gubby is too young to participate and still needs to be watched around small items. So, game time is usually only when Miss Gubby is sleeping.

I was reminded of the importance of making time to play board games with our children recently. And not just because I was reminded of the benefits of board games that I was already aware of – for example, teaching a child to follow rules, to be good sport as a loser (and a good and gracious sport as a winner), taking turns, sharing, accepting the good with the bad and knowing that luck can turn (either way!) in an instant, the value of persistence and, of course, communication and counting.

Sharing a game of Monopoly with our boys gave us the opportunity to teach them a very important life lesson – and hopefully, because it was experienced in an authentic setting and not just taught, one that they will remember for the rest of their lives.

The game

As only befits a birthday, I was ruler of our family for the day in October and got to decide what we would do.

So, while Miss Gubby had a nice long afternoon nap and we were housebound, I decided that all remaining members of our family would play Monopoly.

So out came the board, the houses and hotels, the Community Chest cards and the counters – the ship, the top hat etc.

The boys (7 and 5 years) wowed us with their adding and subtracting and reading the cards and the street names. They also wowed us with their strategy.  Little Mate (the eldest) was focusing on some advice that Damien had given him about the properties with the highest “return on investment”. Dames was more interested in stock-piling cash.

We laughed, we whooped (when going past GO and collecting $200!) and we cursed (mostly when sent to jail)!

And then Miss Gubby woke up and we abandoned ship/top hat etc.

We returned to the game once Miss Gubby was down for the night. What was obvious however was that one of the boys had helped himself to some finance from the bank. Quite a bit of it in fact.

We expressed our disappointment at the behaviour and determined that the boy in question should not benefit from the next few throws of the dice.  And, sure enough, with the illegally obtained finance gone and no ability to earn, the boy in question was soon bankrupted from the game.

When the winner had been determined, we continued our conversation about the incident. Our little guy, who always tries to do the right thing, was clearly devastated by what he had done and had not appreciated the enormity of it.

Nonetheless we took the opportunity to talk about how it was the wrong thing to do and how it was important to play by the rules.

We also talked about how we wanted both boys to remember this lesson for the rest of their lives because the consequences of cheating and stealing were serious – that, if they stole money or other things in later life, they would be taken away from their family and put in jail; that, with a conviction, they may not be able to travel overseas and get certain jobs. We also talked about how much we valued honest people and honesty and that sometimes doing the right thing was not always the easy thing.

Being there with our children and sharing the game gave us the opportunity to have this discussion in a situation that was authentic and hopefully memorable for them.

A recent seminar on resilience that I attended at the boys school advocated the benefits of an engaged family environment when children are young – because that environment can provide a soft landing and a safe space without judgment where children can make errors and learn from them. To me what transpired through that game of Monopoly was exactly what the educator was talking about that night.

As well as overtly teaching a lesson, we also modelled good behaviour to our children during the game of Monopoly. Board games with an element of chance (eg that involve the role of a dice) can be a great way for parents to model good behaviour to their children because generally the playing field is level and everyone is in the same boat.

In the Monopoly game we played we were all struggling on the property ladder, we all landed on someone’s hotel and had to scrape together the rent (including sometimes mortgaging properties to stay afloat)! Nonetheless, neither Damien nor I robbed the bank!


I’ve been wondering if we got too heavy in explaining the consequences of stealing with the boys. You want to teach the “do not steal” lesson to last a lifetime, but you also don’t want to scare the living daylights out of them!  It’s that question of kids should be kids isn’t it? But what does that mean, where are the boundaries and does that mean sometimes parents must lie? Stay tuned for more – I’ll be discussing the idea that kids should be kids next on this blog!

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