It’s only as an adult that I appreciate board games. As a kid I didn’t like them because I was a sore loser. I don’t think I ever finished a game of Monopoly; I always ended up storming off when I landed on my sister’s Park Place hotel.
Now I play board games in therapy several times a week because so many of the kids I work with like to pull them off the shelf. This is especially true for the tweens. We have some therapy-specific board games (like these), which can be nice and some kids love them but usually the ones they grab are the usual suspects — Trouble and Monopoly Jr. And card games, too, like Uno.
A lot of therapists do inspired things with Jenga but honestly, that game rattles my nerves too much so I’m a little useless around Jenga. Pop-Up Pirate is more my speed when it comes to games with built in tension.
What’s great about board games is that it keeps you and your client busy so maybe they’re comfortable talking about things they don’t normally want to talk about. It means she don’t have to just sit there, hands in her lap, feeling nervous, which is a lot to ask a child to do especially if she doesn’t know me well. Games have the same give and take that conversation is supposed to have, which makes it easier to follow the rhythm of taking turns and let it lead to a discussion. Plus if the topic starts feeling too intense, the child can shift focus back to the game.
Another nice thing about playing games in the therapy office is that it puts everyone on an even keel. A game like Sorry is all chance so even a little kid can take down an adult if he gets a lucky roll. Let me tell you, when a child walks in feeling defensive (or downright angry) about coming to counseling and then gets to send me back home in Sorry, he’s much more likely to open up to me later.
Playing games with my clients also gives me a chance to know them better. Are they sore losers like I was? Gracious winners? Do they try to cheat to win? Or to lose? Do they take particular glee in humiliating my gingerbread man? There’s a lot to learn when I’m playing a game with a client.