We all want our children to be healthy, intelligent, well-behaved and, above all, happy. Of course, tabletop gaming is neither necessary nor sufficient to achieve these goals, but I consider it a worthwhile supplement to sports, music, crafts and reading. As a gamer myself, I was keen to introduce my children to the joys of gaming, and it has blossomed into a passion for them and an opportunity for me to both reflect on and reinforce my parenting philosophies.
As adults, we take for granted much of the knowledge required to participate in tabletop games. For pre-school children, however, gaming is one of the most highly structured activities they can be involved in, and the uninitiated must absorb several new concepts. Not only must they learn to accept written rules (though often with recurring memes such as taking turns), but they must also become conversant with so-called gaming etiquette (such as agreeing to play a game in the first place, rotating the start player, or being a gracious loser).
These are some of the lessons we have reinforced through gaming. These are not universal truths, but they define my own approach to rearing young children.
We play to have a good time first; we play to win second. It is alright to be disappointed, even upset, when we do not win. Extreme emotional outbursts, however, cast doubt on whether we are gaming at the right time or for the right reasons; they also diminish the enjoyment of other players, making it is less likely that they will wish to play again in future. For the winner, it is important to recognise a distinction between appropriate celebration and gloating or derision.
(I don’t, as a rule, sandbag so that my children can win. Instead, we play games that they have a realistic chance of winning; less frequently, we play games that call for more sophisticated strategy, for the sake of variety. The trick is to find games that allow adults and children to compete on relatively equal footing and that are also enjoyable for both.)
It is a courtesy to all to schedule games appropriately, e.g., not to commence a 20-minute game only 5 minutes before dinner time! Equally, agreeing to play a game represents a commitment to stay until the game finishes. (We are not very strict on this, though; in particular, the younger child is more easily distracted. If she wanders off, I remind myself of the importance of selecting age-appropriate games.
Giving a clear and concise explanation of game rules to a newcomer is difficult, but my children are always keen to try. While they often rush to describe their favourite feature of gameplay, skipping over other details, I interrupt as little as possible, preferring to observe their commendable communication skills.
In summary, I view gaming as one of the safest arenas in which children learn to assert their independence. If we as parents remain mindful of this, then we can take advantage of countless opportunities to guide the development of our children’s social skills.