Guest Blogger - Kim Peterson, MA, LPC-S, RPT:
A game with a child or adolescent is not just a game, if you keep an open mind to learning more about them. Whether you are a parent, therapist, or other adult in a child’s life, you can gain a greater understanding of their personality, strengths, weaknesses, and other tendencies by being observant and mindful of a behaviors and emotions in the child.
Some of my favorite non-therapeutic games to play with children include Uno, Jenga, Checkers, Sorry, Chutes and Ladders, and Candy Land. These games are not created for therapeutic use, yet if you are cognizant of what to look for, you can gain valuable insight about a child.
1. Decisive versus Indecisive: Notice whether the child shows difficulty deciding their next move, or if they make up their mind pretty quickly. What emotions do you observe as well- anxiety, confidence?
2. Secure or Insecure: Do they appear to worry about their move, or maybe show anxiety about getting far behind? Maybe they are just the opposite and show a high level of confidence.
3. Ability to multitask: Try to have a conversation with them during the game. Can they talk, think, and play the game all together? Or maybe the game has multiple areas to track, such as chess. Can they keep up with all the moving parts and considerations?
4. Ability to follow directions: Ask a child to help set up the game, or give them a role in the game (banker for example). You can learn how well the child follows one or multiple step directions.
5. Social skills: Observe the child’s eye contact, ability to take turns, conversational abilities, and enjoyment of playing the game with you. Although you are an adult, we can learn how the child’s peers may experience them, giving us helpful knowledge of their social strengths and weaknesses.
6. Rule-follower or rule-maker: Does the child make up or change the rules of the game? Do they show an interest in learning all the rules, and maybe even pull out the game guide before playing? Or maybe they try to break the rules, either overtly (letting you know they are changing the rules) or covertly (sneaking around).
7. Ability to visualize options: Can they look at the whole picture and see their options, or are they limited to seeing only one angle or problem? Chess and checkers are good games to test this theory.
8. Expression of negative feelings: How do they react when they are in an uncomfortable or undesirable situation? Maybe they are losing, or anxious about their next move. Do they express their anger or frustration, and how? Do they start threatening you or putting you down? Does the child avoid their feelings all together and decide to quit?
9. Planner or Impulsive: Do they have a game strategy in mind, or do they react impulsively? Children who are impulsive will make a move, quickly to discover they should have looked at their options first.
10. Sore loser or good winner: What is their reaction when they believe they are going to lose, or after they have lost a game? Do they immediately challenge you to a new game, attempt to change the rules, beg for another chance? Do they congratulate you, or say it was a fun game? Are they smiling, or do they get quiet?
11. Flexibility and Adaptability: Do they show an ability to change their strategy if it’s not working? Do they allow rules to be altered, if it is agreeable to both players? Are they willing to play with a different color piece if their first choice is not available?
12. Persistent or give up easily: Does the child want to quit when they get behind, or do they show a persistence to improve their situation? The child may exhibit discouragement easily, or show a tenacity in improving their skills.
13. Need for reassurance: The child’s level of security may coincide with their need for reassurance. Do they ask you to validate their decisions and game moves, or show anxiety unless you do? Children who are insecure may want your reassurance that they are doing well throughout the game.
14. Problem solving abilities: Can they identify their options and choose the best one? Do they understand the rules of the game and make a move within those rules? How does the child react when you make a move that challenges them?
15. Feelings about competition: Does the child show or tell you they don’t like games or competing, or do they enjoy competition? This is a great conversation starter into learning about the child’s experiences with competition and peer interactions.