The Therapeutic Benefits of Board Games

Board and card games are a staple in many households and therapeutic offices. The reason they are so popular (apart from being fun!) is that, aside from getting us off of our screens, they contribute to the development of so many cognitive and social-emotional skills.

For example:

Sense of Accomplishment: When a child learns and masters a new board game, the sense of accomplishment they feel does wonders for their confidence. Learning new skills- no matter what they are- is always a source of pride. We want our children to roam the world as confident individuals.

Self-Regulation: Picture this: You’re playing a family board game and in order to win the game, your child needs to roll a 3. Instead, he rolls a 5. You can see the tension growing in his body and a grimace start to form on his face. He yells in frustration and tips the board game upside down before stomping out of the room.

This is an all-too-common scene in the living rooms of families living with a dysregulated child. As a child plays board games with their family, they’ll start to work through the distressful situation of the unpredictability that can come with board games. This is called distress tolerance. The more the child plays board games, the easier it will be for the child to handle the uncertainty that comes with every roll.

When the whole family actively practices remaining calm during both wins and losses, this can help the dysregulated child experience family support as well as enjoy the game being played. No one needs to rub it in anyone else’s face if they’ve won.

Family Time: Board and card games are an amazing way to spend time together as a family. I encourage you to set aside a regular time each week to play games together as a family. Even 30 minutes spent together as a family every week will prove to be valuable to each and every member. As a family, together you will form many memories and many strategies for supporting one another and for healthy game playing. HOT TIP: For those adults who don’t have the best “pretend play” skills, board games are an excellent way to engage with your child! I cannot play endless hours of “make believe,” but I have no problem playing board games with my child for hours on end.

Cognitive Benefits: Playing board games helps a child develop logic and reasoning skills, and improve critical thinking. While playing board games, a child needs to think ahead and make decisions rapidly. The effects of these decisions are usually seen immediately. In order to successfully play a board game, children must concentrate and focus for a lengthy period of time. When choosing board games for the family, make sure it’s a game that most members enjoy; If not, compromise to make sure everyone has an opportunity to play a game of their choosing.

Math Skills: Many board games have a mathematical component to them. Whether it’s counting spaces on the CandyLand© board, or counting money while playing Monopoly©, your child will naturally improve math skills while playing board games.

Feel Good: Playing a relaxing board game together as a family has many mental health benefits. Laughing together with the ones you love can increase your bond as well as release endorphins (those feel-good hormones) from your body. Slowing down and focusing on spending time together as a family and playing a game will help reduce everyone’s stress.

Solitaire Games: One way to keep your child engaged at home, on road trips, etc. is by setting him up with some fun solitaire games. My favorite solitaire game by far is Rush Hour© (and Rush Hour Jr.© for the younger crowd). This game is played solo (but can be played with friends as well). The premise of this game is to navigate vehicles through a traffic jam, by moving other vehicles out of the way (vehicles can only move in one direction: up and down or left and right). Rush Hour© develops the following skills: visual perception, spatial orientation, directionality direction following, sequencing, problem-solving and fine motor skills.

NowWhat? Challenge: Take a photo of you and your child(ren) or your entire family playing a board or card game! Email the photo to us at and tell us about at least one benefit that this experience has brought to your child or family unit. Feel free to send in old photos from when you were a kid playing with your family - what did you learn from the experience?

We would also love to hear your board or card game recommendations so that we can give them a try or recommend them to others!

NowWhat? is based in Hamilton, Ontario. We are a multi-disciplinary therapeutic clinic providing clinical, community-based & in-home services in Greater Hamilton, Halton, Brant, Niagara, Haldimand and the GTA.

We are also available for remote consultation and support across North America.  Our clinic specialises in wraparound family support with expertise in managing ADHD, ASD, Anxiety, Emotional Regulation, Behaviour Therapy and DBT courses for all ages.

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