Did You See a Decline in Your Kids’ Social Skills During the Pandemic? Experts Say Play Board Games

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By Monica Fish

As we enter the third year of the pandemic, school closures, lockdowns, isolation, and decreased socialization have taken their toll in many ways. The U.S. Surgeon General released an advisory in December on the growing Youth Mental Health Crisis, and experts are seeing a drastic decline in children’s social skills.

Parents have racked their brains to keep their kids social while socially distancing, but according to 7 in 10 parents surveyed by OnePoll, they see kids’ social skills at risk. ⅔ of surveyed parents worry their kids have gotten more socially awkward, and 30% or more are concerned they have trouble sharing, staying quiet for long periods of time, and waiting their turn.

It’s been proven that the best predictor of academic performance in eighth grade was a child’s basic social skills in third grade. But kids currently in third grade haven’t had a regular year of school, or life, since they were in kindergarten.

What’s something you could do today? The answer may surprise you.

Get Out Your Board Games

What’s an affordable solution for parents that doctors recommend and kids will put their device down for? It’s a 4,000-year-old invention that everyone can agree on – board games.

They are such an effective tool for developing social skills that leading experts and therapists have played board games with kids for decades. It’s why Dr. Jon Freeman, Clinical Psychologist, Neuroscience Researcher, board-and-card game enthusiast, and Founder of The Brooklyn Strategist, offers an after-school social skills program at his Board Game cafe.

“After we observed a shortage of social skills in kids, we realized how much work there was to do,” he said. “Our programs focus on neurodevelopment by having fun and developing and articulating strategic approaches through socialization and gameplay.”

It’s such a game-changer that school administrators recommend kids play at Brooklyn Strategist after school, even pre-pandemic.

4 Experts Explain How Board Games Teach Social Skills

“As an occupational therapist of 20 years, I’ve played a lot of board games with kids of all ages and abilities,” says Keri Wilmont, Occupational Therapist, and Toy Expert.  “Board games are a great way for kids to alternate going first, taking turns, listening, and learning how to cope when others might not want to follow the rules and try to cheat or bend the rules in their favor.”

“Therapists aren’t playing games with kids by accident,” adds leading Emotional Dynamics expert, Erik Fisher, Ph.D. “Games can be an avenue for them to build many of the cognitive skills required for successful academic performance, as well as life.  Games practice and build attention, concentration, memory, critical thinking, reasoning, and problem-solving skills. And as a bonus, it helps them learn how to manage to lose and gives them a chance to see that failure tells us when it is time to learn.”

“Making new friends and being able to collaborate with another person is important in a school environment. Board games allow kids to rehearse basic social skills through play,” said Dr. Amanda Gummer, widely considered the go-to expert on play, toys, and child development. “Fast-paced, luck-based games with a focus on fun can be a great way of getting children more opportunities to play with others and begin to develop an understanding of friendly competition.”

“More recent games have introduced cooperative elements, and that’s a great game-changer (no pun intended) regarding social dynamics. Instead of the neurotransmitter reward (e.g., dopamine) coming from being declared the winner at the expense of everyone else, the reward is now associated with working as part of a larger group,” explains Dr. Jon Freeman.

10 Best-Selling Board Games That Teach Social Skills

Are you game for this approach? Here’s a list of 10 beloved board games that experts recommend, kids love, and parents enjoy.  If you want to test drive before buying, many local libraries have board games you can check out just like books.

1. Sneaky Snacky Squirrel Game

2-4 players | Ages 3-6 | Social Skills: Waiting Your Turn, Perseverance, Sportsmanship

For five years, it’s been the best-selling preschool game lauded for easy play.  Little kids love to flick the spinner and feed their squirrel five different colored acorns. While you might be in the lead one minute, you may get a strong breeze next and have to return your acorns and start again.

2. Candyland

2-4 players | Ages 3+ | Social Skills: Waiting Your Turn, Perseverance, Sportsmanship, Following Instructions

For over 70 years, this adored, easy-to-understand game set within a kids’ dreamland of candy has been a go-to for families. While it seems simple, it introduces the concept of rules, turn-taking, following directions, and winning and losing to preschool-aged kids.

3. Zingo

2-6 players | Ages 4+ | Social Skills: Sportsmanship, Following Instructions, Attention Skills

It’s Bingo with a Zing! Fifty million families have purchased this kid’s favorite, award-winning Toy of the Year.  Slide the zinger, make a visual match, and fill your picture bingo card to win!

4. Richard Scarry’s Busytown, Eye Found It

1-6 players | Ages 4+ | Social Skills: Collaboration, Teamwork, Following Instructions

If you want to introduce your young child to the fun of board games, but they are still getting used to losing, give this game a try. While the game’s goal is to move your piece through the board, no one wins until everyone gets to the end. This approach focuses the fun on playing and not necessarily winning, keeping the tears away.

5. Ticket to Ride

2-5 players | Ages 6+ | Social Skills: Sportsmanship, Following Instructions

This award-winning board game is so popular that they released a Juniors version. If your train-loving toddler is now older, give this beloved cross-country train adventure board game a try!  Players collect and play cards to own railway routes connecting cities all across America from Miami to Seattle. With a total of 11 boards, you can play across India, Europe, and Asia.

6. Uno

2-10 players | Ages 7+ | Social Skills: Sportsmanship, Following Instructions, Attention

This 50-year old classic card game can be purchased for $10 or under and is small enough to pack for a family vacation. While it seems like a fun, competitive race to get rid of your cards first, kids are practicing laser-focused concentration, following directions, and being a good winner and loser.

7. Lattice Hawaii

2-4 players | Ages 8+ | Social Skills: Attention, Following Instructions, Sportsmanship

With more than eight awards to its name, this game is beloved by a wide range of age groups.  Described by the creator as a mix of Rummy, Sudoku, and a Rubik’s Cube combined with inspiration from Hawaiian myths, give this fast-paced tile-based game a try.

8. King of Tokyo

2-4 players | Ages 8+ | Social Skills: Following Instructions, Sportsmanship, Confrontation

Created by the same game designer behind Magic the Gathering, it’s not a surprise it’s won many awards, including Best Family game. Who wouldn’t enjoy playing mutant monsters, giant robots, and weird aliens destroying the city to become The King of Tokyo?

9. Pandemic

2-4 players | Ages 8+ | Social Skills: Teamwork, Collaboration

There’s nothing like the challenge of saving humanity from a pandemic to get a family or group of friends working together! This multi-award-winning cooperative board game gives each player a role like a medic, scientist, quarantine specialist. The group recognizes and applies the strength of each player’s part to cure a deadly disease before it’s too late.

10. Settlers of Catan

3-4 players | Ages 10+ | Social Skills: Sportsmanship, Confrontation, Attention

This 25-year-old board game, bought by 20 million people, has been called the most beloved board game of all time by table-top enthusiasts. The countless ways you can develop the Island of Catan lends to endlessly fun replays. Players as young as six can enjoy Catan with their Junior pirate-themed version with a simpler playing style.

This post was previously published on Wealth of Geeks.


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