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Why board games are good for you - and how to get kids playing

Children spending too much time online? Follow expert advice and get the family together for a gaming session, writes Lisa Salmon

Brain boost: playing games can improve memory and cognitive skills
Brain boost: playing games can improve memory and cognitive skills

By Lisa Salmon

If you're a parent who'd love to spend more time with the kids and are desperate for them to stare at screens less, there could be a way of tackling both: playing board games together.

The benefits of board gaming are far-reaching, allowing parents to have conversations with kids, as well as developing children's interpersonal skills and boosting confidence.

Ellie Dix has been obsessed with games from an early age. After teaching and leading a team of behaviour specialists, she now runs her own board game company, The Dark Imp, and has written a book, The Board Game Family (Crown House Publishing, £12.99) to highlight the benefits of games.

"Board games bring people together and help parents to reclaim family time," says Dix. "Through games, parents can create an irresistible offline world that will restore balance, deepen relationships, develop transferable skills and create shared, long-lasting memories."

Here, she outlines some of the benefits and suggests how parents can get kids involved...

1. They get kids away from screens

Parents are always searching for ways to occupy their children offline. Board games satisfy our desire to play, without staring at a video game.

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2. Children can see parents play

It's easy for parents to get caught up in what needs to be done and forget about having fun. It's important for children to see their parents play.

3. They model appropriate behaviour

Parents who are humble in victory and cheerful in defeat demonstrate sportsmanship. Praising choices of players normalises positive attitudes.

4. Games help children learn from failure

Board games provide a platform for us to fail. The stakes are low and it doesn't matter if we lose. As children become more comfortable with failing, they learn from it. Children start to learn about the impact of their own decisions, but in a safe environment.

5. It develops social skills

Children learn how to take turns, be patient, work in a team, negotiate, compromise, communicate ideas, take risks and follow rules and directions.

6. Board games improve learning

Playing games improves memory and cognitive skills, develops logic and reasoning, improves critical thinking, improves verbal and communication skills, increases attention and concentration, teaches problem-solving and develops confidence.

7. There's family equality

Parents usually make decisions for the rest of the family, but all players are equal in a game.

8. You have shared experiences

Playing board games brings families together. Good games evoke all sorts of emotions. Our emotional reactions connect us to the game, the experience and the people we're playing with.

9. They're a conversation starter

Tabletop chatter spills over into post-game analysis. Great experiences act as bookmarks in our mind, giving us memories to chat about time and time again.

10. There's a low entry bar

Anyone can get a game and learn to play. No special skills, knowledge or equipment are required. Board gaming is cheap and the amount of replayability offsets any initial investment.

11. They improve relationships

When playing games, players focus on one another, but within the safety of the structure of the game. Interaction is increased and players need to communicate effectively to achieve their objectives. Board games give families opportunities to see each other in a different light.

12. Games can help improve awareness and consideration

Through games, we learn the impact our actions have on others. Players learn to listen to obtain information about others. Tone of voice gives indications about how a player is feeling.

13. Something for everyone

There's a huge variety of board games available and anyone can play them.

14. There are both physical and mental health benefits

Playing games induces laughter and reduces stress, boosting the immune system and lowering blood pressure. Board games help us escape from worries and focus on something else. They bring balance and help us relax. Teenagers may want to spend a lot of time in their room, but taking time to play together reduces isolation.

How to encourage kids to play board games

To persuade children to play board games with you, play by yourself or with another adult initially and set yourself up to be discovered. Show your enthusiasm for the game - focus on playing and deliberately ignore your children for a bit. You'll be surprised how fascinated they'll become with what you're doing.

1. Combine food and games

Portable, quick games can interrupt the digitally-obsessed child. Don't ask, just start playing. Deal out cards with dinner - lure them with food and capture them with a game.

2. Invest in good looking games

Games that look good and have lovely components draw people in. Make it hard for your children to walk away by setting up a game that looks like it'll be a real treat to play.

3. Make game night a ritual

Create family rituals around playing games. Stock up on special game night snacks, whack on tunes and create an environment which makes your children feel like they belong.

4. Invite guests

Ask friends and family to join you for a games evening and invite people that your children respect. If everyone shows enthusiasm about playing, it'll rub off.

5. Make games accessible

Get games out of the cupboard and display them prominently. Exposure to board games will normalise game playing.

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