Games can teach life lessons

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 24, 2011


My three boys were, and still are, fierce competitors and candy lovers.

Because of this, my family had a love/hate relationship with Candy Land. When one of my sons was about to reach the candy castle at the end of the game board, he would get so excited that he could hardly stand it. Whoever was closest to winning would start jumping up and down like a little bouncy ball until his next turn to draw a card.

If he drew a color card, everything was fine, and I would breathe a sigh of relief. But if he drew Plumpy the Plumpa Troll, I would brace myself for a toddler tantrum. (In the latest edition of Candy Land, Plumpy the green, chubby troll has mysteriously disappeared and has been replaced by Mamma Ginger Tree.) Anyway, Plumpy was the card that sent a player sliding ALLLLLLL the way back to the beginning of the board.

My kids would melt down if they happened to draw the chubby troll card. After watching one particular fit that was so disturbing for me, I figured out how to handle these meltdowns once and for all. I took Plumpy out of the drawing pile. No one would ever draw that card again.

This wasn’t my most brilliant game plan or my best mothering moment. Drawing the Plumpy card could have been a great learning tool for my kids in the bigger game of life – teaching my kids how to bounce back from disappointment, to persevere and to practice self-control. It also could have shown them that the game will continue and can be fun, even if it means not winning. Harder work for me, but definitely better for my sons in the long run.

Current research confirms that playing games is an awesome learning tool. Some researchers even suggest game playing helps the brain work more efficiently in areas linked to critical thinking, reasoning, language and information processing. The popularity of gaming and the use of game mechanics in all sorts of areas have recently sky-rocketed for a reason. So, why not take what we know about game playing (that mothers have really known all along), and intentionally use it in our lives and parenting practices?

Develop your own mothering game plan and think through questions such as: What character traits do I want my children to have when they grow up? How can I help them develop those now? How do I make wise decisions when I’m overwhelmed with choices? When should I listen to and trust my gut? What role do others play in the game? How can I become a better mom and raise confident kids?

When my children were toddlers and playing Candy Land, I wasn’t thinking about an overall strategy for my mothering plan. But I quickly learned the value of keeping a bigger picture in mind and continue to do that today.

That’s the essence of this year’s MOPS (Mothers of Preschool Students) theme: Learning to embrace our instincts, adjust plans as we are dealt cards we weren’t expecting, and engage in this amazing game of motherhood with a confident attitude and a love of life-long learning.


Jean Blackmer, author of MomSense: A Common-Sense Guide to Confident Mothering (and other books) and publishing manager for MOPS International. lackmer lives in Boulder, Colo., with her husband, Zane, and their three sons.

Locally, the MOPS group meets the first Friday of the month from monthly from 9 a.m. until 11:30 a.m. at First Presbyterian Church. For more information, call the church office at 222-5352 or e-mail