The New Family Game Night

Try these easy, fun ways to connect with your kids on those long winter nights.

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Why Family Togetherness Matters

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We all know that as kids get older, it's harder to connect with them. They're busy, they have a close personal relationship with their phone and computer, and friends trump mom and dad. But the long nights of winter provide a great opportunity to bond. Yes, we're talking games. Game night is one of the easiest ways for families to connect and build future memories. The options are endless (so there's bound to be something that appeals to even that too-bored-to-breathe teenager) and all you need is about hour. Here, seven reasons game night is one of the best traditions you should start—today—with your family.


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Put Kids in Charge

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Inviting your children to choose or create games for your family game night gives them a sense of control, something they may not experience in the rest of their lives. "You'd be surprised by how giving this shared game night authority and creative decision-making power to kids ramps up their excitement level and eagerness to participate," says Carleton Kendrick, a family therapist and author of Take Out Your Nose Ring, Honey, We're Going to Grandma's. "Children need to be anchored in regular, dependable, joyful times and they need to feel like they have some input in time spent together."


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Use Those Teachable Moments

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Games are a great way to teach your kids important life skills like patience, taking turns, and good sportsmanship, says Julie Hall, who launched her own Family Game Night in 1997. She now plays games, including Monopoly and Jenga, the word block game, at least two to three nights after dinner with her kids. "I can't imagine not booking in time for games—it's just as important as homework for my older child!"


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Go Electronic

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If you're tired of watching your kids play with their video, computer, or Internet games, jump in. "Motion-based consoles like Wii and Sony Move are great because they get everyone up and moving," says Christina Recchio, of 2K Play, a video game publisher in New York City. "Plus, these games are still challenging enough for your kids even if they play them all the time."

And most kids will get a kick out of being able to teach their parents a thing or two about how the game is played (and will enjoy laughing at your efforts). "Watching parents struggle can help a child look at his or her parents in a whole new way," says Renee Trudeau, a career/life balance expert, coach, and author of The Mother's Guide to Self-Renewal: How to Reclaim, Rejuvenate and Re-Balance Your Life.


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Travel Back in Time

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Reaching deep into the toy cabinet for old-fashioned toys like Legos or Play-Doh might just bring out the silliness in even the most jaded tween. "I advocate open-ended play where kids can bring their own creativity to the fun," says Tim Walsh, owner of The Playmakers, a game-design company. "It's hilarious to watch kids' reactions when they create things. Besides, what parent doesn't want to be transported back to third grade by taking a deep smell of a wad of Play-Doh? That moment alone will bond kids to their nostalgic, teary-eyed parents!"


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Go for the Classics

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Games like charades are a huge hit with families, in particular because many parents love games that require no dice, no video console, or elaborate instructions—just some scraps of paper for guesses and a bowl to put them in. "You'll enjoy heightened connection and feel the generation gap shrink when you can all laugh about a song or book or movie you love and have shared together," says Renee Trudeau.


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Games That Teach

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If homework is putting a damper on winter-night fun, put a playful spin on it. Some games today supplement (and enhance) what your kids are learning at school. "There are awesome games out there that help kids with financial literacy and geography—two key skill sets for kids today," says Patty Pearcy, president of SimplyFun, a game company in Bellevue, Washington. "These games make what they're learning in school fun!" And playing these games may even boost your kids' interest in certain topics.


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Make a Date

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The very act of establishing a regular family game night ritual—this could be once a week or once a month depending on your schedule—is a gift you can give your kids. What you're doing is offering your family members a predictable time when you're definitely going to be together. "Kids love to know there are dependable times to look forward to that are rooted in togetherness, celebration, and fun," says therapist Kendrick. "And regardless of ongoing family issues or stress, these game nights should go on. They're incredibly important times for a family to spend together."