5 Steps to a Fun Family Game Night With Toddlers by @pickneys_at_play

Boy happily posing with Skillmatics

It’s family game night! You’re excited for the bonding, the laughter and the joy, but getting everyone together, keeping them together and avoiding distractions - especially if there’s a toddler involved - can be tricky! But what if I told you, the key to a successful game night with toddlers, is following their lead and doing things their way?

Enjoying game nights with my now 3 year old twins has taught me a few strategies on how to keep them engaged. At first it may seem a bit futile, but the impact of spending quality time together as a family and the life lessons that can be sprinkled within each game, is worth working up to! 

Two siblings playing memory match

Let’s walk through the evening from their perspective, and see how being intentional about our youngest player’s involvement can make Family Game Night fun for everyone!

1. “I want to be included” - Involve Your Toddler in the Preparation

No one is more eager to help than the toddler who sees her parents doing just about anything. My boys helped to make finger sandwiches and fruits and opted to lay them on a picnic blanket. The blanket was totally unnecessary, but why not!

Encouraging initiative and creative thinking in neutral times like these, influences their desire to be more responsible in other areas of life as they grow. So whether it be as simple as carrying the game to the table, or as complex as assisting with snack prep, don’t underestimate your little one’s ability to be a helpful contributor in preparation for the evening.  

2. “I want to have an opinion” - Invite your Toddler to Choose the Game

Toddlers are curious, but unable to remain focused for long periods of time. Engage their attention by offering age-appropriate game options that align with their interest and developmental abilities and have them select the game to be played. Naturally, they will be excited to see what’s inside the box of their choosing and more inclined to stick around for a topic they actually enjoy. Our boys love learning about animals so Skillmatics Memory Match Animal Planet and Guess in 10 Junior Animal Kingdom, both made this simple for us!

Two kids enjoying the game play of Guess in 10 Junior

3. “I want to learn AND have fun” - Go Easy on the Rules

The goal of a Family Game Night is to enjoy the company of siblings and parents with no pressure to perform. The last thing that matters are the actual rules of the game. So it helps to stay close to your little one, whisper as you explain and show how to play, but more importantly, observe their abilities and adapt as you go along. Even if all they do is take turns rolling the dice or counting the spaces as they move the pieces while you do all the ‘work’, this is playful learning!

This easy-going approach to the evening, makes family game night a stress- free environment to teach social skills, practice taking turns (and waiting their turn) and following instructions to the best of their ability. Instead of correcting their every move, enjoy their clever (or silly) choices and create lasting memories. 

Siblings playing with memory match and looking at a game tile

4. “I want to spend time with YOU” - Be Present in the Moment

Having to maintain a toddler’s attention is expected, but they should never have to compete for yours. The truth is, it’s much easier to spend time in the same room connected to different devices as opposed to connecting with each other, but I know as my boys grow older, life will become even busier, so intentionally having time together as part of our routine is important.

Our undivided attention makes them know they are special and sets a good example for the attentiveness we hope to receive from them too. TV’s switched off. Tablets and cell phones are put away.

two small boys playing with Guess in 10 Junior

5. “I want to do this again” - Make it a Tradition!

In the beginning, game night with my twins lasted only a few minutes, because out of respect for them, we’d stop playing when they showed signs of lost interest. But the more we did it, the easier it became. The boys grew to know what to expect and what is expected of them, and had so much fun with us that they’d ask to do it again. I love this because family game night is more than playing games. We have conversations, I learn about their friends at school and discover more about their individuality. As a plus, they too learn about us. Mommy and Daddy are fun! They learn that though we’re each playing this game to win -, in life, we’re actually all on the same team.

Family photo

Ana-Kay is mother to three year old twins Jax & Juju. 

They practice Montessori and Respectful Parenting at home. Follow them @pickneys_at_play for more!

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