With nine kids and twenty years of parenting, I definitely have experience with family game nights — especially failed game nights. To be honest, I cringe inside whenever someone mentions family game night. I hope I’m not the only one. Since I’m an expert, I thought I’d share my tips on how to ruin a family game night.
1. Don’t pre-select any games.
Sending your kids into the game closet to agree on games can be a recipe for disaster. It may even turn into a wrestling match. If you limit their choices to a few games, you’ll get to play sooner.
2. Expect all your children to play the same game at once.
If you have younger kids and older kids, it will be best to have a few games for the little ones to play while the older kids tackle Risk or Life or some other really long game with Dad.
3. Make it a late night.
We all know that our kids are on their
best worst behavior when they’re tired. So why not start a game night just an hour before bedtime? Unless it’s New Year’s Eve, start the game night early.
4. Play the same game every time.
If you find a game that everyone in your family loves and can play together, then stick with it as long as they seem interested. But most of the time, kids enjoy switching things around.
5. Pick a messy snack.
The gooiest dessert you can make and the stickiest drinks in open cups are a sure-fire way to ruin a family game night. When sister passes the chocolate-coated dice and the toddler spills apple juice onto the game board, someone is sure to have a melt-down.
6. Multi-task all night.
My kids love it when I only give them half my attention. What about yours? I didn’t think so. Put the smartphone away, stop sneaking peeks at your laptop, don’t try to do chores between turns, and focus on the kids. It’s only two hours.
7. Start with an incomplete game.
When you’re pre-selecting games, take a moment to be sure all the pieces are in the box because when the kids finally agree on a game — after fifteen minutes of negotiations, you won’t want to make them start all over again.
8. Turn everything into a teachable moment.
Important lessons can be learned while playing games with your family, but we don’t have to preach a sermon at every opportunity. A quiet reminder to play fairly or be a good sport will be more effective than a lecture that gets tuned out and spoils the fun.
9. Stick to your schedule.
So you plan to play the first game for 45 minutes, have a snack, and then play another game for an hour. But the kids are tired of game one and ready to move on after 20 minutes. Or the first game is such a hit that they want to keep playing it for three hours. Just relax and follow their lead.
10. Expect every moment to be picture-perfect.
Families are rarely picture-perfect, and neither are family events. But the best memories are made when you overlook the messes. Don’t give up after the first squabble or the fourth. Don’t give up if the last game night was a big disappointment. Take a deep breath. Or two or three. And try again.
Family game nights are a fun way to unwind with our kids and spend quality time as a family. Family history and culture are forged in those moments. The memories of family jokes, funny stories, and good feelings outweigh the frustrations.
We’ve had our share of failed family game nights: board games thrown, tempers flaring, crying preschoolers who wanted to play a game that was too hard— you name it. That’s not what our kids remember when we talk about family games, though. They remember the time their aunts or grandpa played with them. They remember beating Mom at Scrabble for the first time.
It’s worth every failed game night to build those family memories.