It's not always the right time to play games.
I know, I know -- coming from a board game lover like me, that's a pretty stunning thought. After all, people who love golf are willing to brave sand, rain, snow, sleet, hail and mosquitoes to get a few rounds in. Shouldn't board game players be able to play at pretty much any hour?
Comparatively speaking, sitting down for a board game is a piece of cake. You don't even need to check the weather. Just grab the kids, clear the table, set up the pieces and start playing, right?
That's absolutely right, except for one thing: checking how everybody feels right then.
Everyone goes through spikes and dips in mood, patience and energy during the course of a day. Scientists call this a circadian rhythm, and it appears everywhere in biology. The circadian rhythm explains why you feel feel creatively sharp in the morning, have trouble focusing in the late afternoon and start yawning as the sun goes down. It's part of our bodies, although different people experience it in different ways and at different times.
We have it, plants have it, animals have it; heck, even our kids have it, but I'm convinced theirs is upside down, which explains why my 8-year-old goes into high-energy mode about 10 minutes before bedtime every night.
But I digress.
Before grabbing the kids at 9 p.m. in hope of slipping in a quick round of the family's favorite strategy game, take a moment for a quick mood check, starting with yourself. Are you ready to be patient and calm if one of the kids takes a long time to make a move in the game? Can you endure a run of bad luck without being snarky? Do you have enough energy to smile and keep the game moving forward? What about your significant other if he or she plans to be part of the game as well? What's the reading there?
Most importantly, remember to check the kids, too. As the adult, it's your responsibility to suck it up a little bit and make some magic happen for your kids, even if you don't feel 100 percent (or even 60 or 70 percent). But kids are only kids -- they're still learning how to deal with their unique rhythms. That means you need to help them proactively by using your elite parenting skills.
Take a moment to think about the time. Is it a school night or a weekend? Were the kids particularly active during the day or do they have energy left? Do they usually lose concentration after a particular hour?
When my kids were in their tweens and teens, we could play pretty much any kind of game if we started around 7 p.m. If we didn't get organized until 8 p.m., then we played something with light-strategy and fast-play. That way, we could still enjoy the time while avoiding frustrations.
Some games demand more focus from players than others, so use that as a guideline when choosing what to do. If everybody feels reasonably bright, energetic and engaged, they can probably handle a game that lasts an hour and demands some strategic planning.
On the other hand, if you or your kids feel a little ragged, pull out something that's fast and fun. Watch for more information in the coming weeks about how to gauge what a game demands from the players and how to pick the best titles for your family.
Of course, I didn't always remember my own guidelines, and we had our share of problem-plagued family nights. I noticed our most common mistake was picking a game that required some thought and strategy, but then starting to play too late in the evening. By the time we got about 45 minutes into the game, the kids couldn't focus (or, worse, one could but the other couldn't) and I found myself short on patience. That's not a good combination in any direction.
If that happens, pause the game and come back to it the next day. You don't need to make a speech about it -- just say something like, "I think we're too tired to make this fun right now, so let's pick it up tomorrow."
As a parent, your kids look to you for guidance and help. They know they're tired, but sometimes they don't want to give up. Giving them permission to feel what they feel instead of pressing on like a soldier slogging through the snow is important. You're giving them space to be themselves, and you're respecting them as people.
That may seem like a small thing right now, but it's bigger than you think.