Posted in Family Fun Factor, Indoor Play, Parent-Child Bonding, Positive Parenting, Therapy

Classic Games that Promote Valuable Lessons (free printable)


Parents Need to play games with their children. I am not talking about video games… but board games!

Many of the games you played as a child are still being manufactured today. You probably have fond memories of playing Trouble, Monopoly or Sorry. Think of the board games you enjoyed most as a child. Chances are your children will enjoy them, too.

When purchasing new board games, take into consideration the ages of the family members who will be playing. I suggest Candy Land, Yahtzee, Checkers or Jenga.

They’re a great teaching tool because they imitate real life. There are rules you have to follow. You have to cooperate and wait your turn which can encourage impulse control. Board games have an element of learning as well. If money has to be counted, you are learning math. If you have to spend money, you are learning how to budget.

By observing the behavior of adults during a board game, children also will learn how to deal with winning and losing. Ask yourself what you are modeling during the game. Do you lose graciously? Do you win without rubbing it in? Sometimes adults will intentionally lose a game to allow a child to win. I suggest you play as well as you can and let the chips fall where they may. If a child is disappointed at losing, that’s a good learning experience, too.

Playing a board game also provides an opportunity to start conversations with your children. It’s a refreshing change from the traditional question, “What did you learn at school today?” When there is tension or distance among a family, a board game can even serve as an ice breaker. In fact, Don’t Break the Ice is a perfect game to ease some of that tension and get family members interacting again.

Because board games provide an opportunity to interact with people, they promote social skills and can bring people together, both young and old. That in turn can strengthen bonds between family members.

It is most useful in treatment of children between the ages of four (children younger than that cannot usually play board games) and twelve (the adolescent will often consider the game “babyish”).

One word of caution: Playing board games together as a family can cause spontaneous laughter, fun and a good time.

Pick Up Stick Game


What you need: Pick up stick game ~ Purchase this game on Amazon for $10 Click Here

How to play: Pick-Up-Sticks is another game that many children are familiar with. Children who are impulsive, have weak fine motor skills, or have low frustration tolerance may not enjoy this game. In one therapeutic version of this game (McDowell, 2004) children are taught the following color-affect pairs:

Black-Very Sad

Each time a stick is removed the player describes a time they felt that emotion. Again, the therapist is expected to follow the rule, but should tailor their responses to the needs of the child. Early on, the therapist may allow a certain number of “passes” where the players don’t have to respond. It is important to pay attention not only to the content of the child’s responses but also to their choice of sticks and which colors, if any, they avoid. This game not only encourages discussion and opening up, but affect recognition and the appropriate expression of affect.

This activity is designed to help children understand and discuss various affective states. The child is encouraged to think about what colors might represent different feelings. For example, the child might be asked to try and guess what feeling would go with the color red, or if they’ve heard the saying, “green with envy.” The discussion with the child should ensure that they have a good understanding of each feeling. Books such as “The Way I Feel” can be very helpful. The child is then provided with a blank piece of paper and encouraged to fill the paper with colors that show the feelings they have had throughout their life. The child is free to complete the picture in any fashion they want to. The completed picture can then become the focus of discussion.



Click Here to purchase the game Sorry from Amazon for $20

What you need: The same prompts as for Candyland (see below), Sorry game

How to play: At beginning of game client and therapist roll a pair of dice. Play game as usual. Each time a player picks a card that is the same as the number the therapist or client rolled at the beginning, the must answer a prompt.



Click Here to purchase this game on Amazon for $12

What you need: One Candy Land game, and a collection of prompts (see below)

How you play: Players move their pawn around the Candy Land board the standard way. Whenever the players land on a square that is the same color as their pawn, they respond to a statement or question from the list. The therapist should have about 10-15 prompts prepared in advance. Lists can be made for children with cooperation and compliance issues, anxiety, depression, social issues, etc.

Below are some sample prompts (For Sorry game too)

Cooperation and Compliance
1. Name one rule you really don’t like. Can you think of a good reason for that rule?
2. When is it hard to share or take turns? What would make it easier?
3. Give an example of when you listened the first time. Tell yourself “good job!”
4. Pretend you’re the boss. Tell the other player a good way to be cooperative with Mom or Dad.
5. Do your parents ask you to try new things? Tell about a time you tried something new and you liked it.
6. Pretend you’re helping somebody. What are you doing for them?
7. Why don’t children want to play with someone who is bossy?
8. What are the rules for playing outside at school?
9. What are the rules when a friend comes to your house?
10. What gets your mom mad?
11. What gets your dad mad?
12. Say one thing you don’t like to be told to do. Ask the other person to say that thing, and pretend you are doing it.
13. Say why children don’t like having their toys grabbed.
14. What does cooperation mean?


1. Name something you are afraid of. Is that real or pretend?
2. Who can you talk to when you are scared?
3. Who keeps us safe in the community (outside our house)?
4. What is something an adult told you when you were afraid? Will it help to say that to yourself next time you are afraid?
5. Some people think you have to practice being brave to get over your fears. What is something you did, even though you were afraid?
6. Think of a time you were really happy. Talk about it. Pretend you are afraid and talk about the time you were really happy. Do you think that will help next time you’re afraid?
7. Draw a picture of something you’re afraid of. Now say why you shouldn’t be afraid of that thing.
8. Sing the happiest or silliest song you know. Do you think you can be scared and sing that song?
9. Say something you are afraid of. How could you practice being brave when you are afraid of that thing?
10. Pretend you are afraid. Take a big breath. Blow the fear out S-L-O-W-L-Y.
11. What is the safest place in your house? If you close your eyes can you imagine that place?
12. A boy did not like it when his mother went out or left him at school. She gave him something special, which belonged to her. He was able to hold on to it until she came back. Guess what it was?
13. Being scared may be a clue that you are in danger. Remember the last time you were scared. Were you in danger?
1. Name something that makes you feel happy. Is that something you can do when you are sad?
2. Who helps you when you feel sad? What do they say?
3. Sing a silly or happy song. When you sing that song, do you feel sad, glad, mad, or scared?
4. Name something that you really like about your life?
5. Did you ever try something, over and over, and finally do it (like write your name or remember how to count)?
6. Is it OK to make mistakes?
7. Say “I feel good me!” three times. What do you like about yourself?
8. A boy thought going to school was no fun. Tell him what you do at school that is fun.
9. A girl did not like to play alone. Tell her what you like to do when you play alone.
10. A boy was sad so he asked his family members to give him hugs. Who can you ask for hugs?
11. What could you make for a parent? How would you feel when you gave it to a parent? Sad, Glad, Mad, or Afraid?
12. What is the best thing that ever happened to you?
13. Pretend you just got sent to time out. Say “I can handle this. I’m a good person and I’ll stay out of trouble next time.”
Social Skills
1. Cooperate means share, take turns, and doing what the other person wants. When do you cooperate?
2. When is it hard to cooperate? What would make it easier?
3. What are some words you can use when you want to play with someone?
4. What is a good way to decide who goes first? 5. When is a good idea to take turns?
6. Pretend you’re helping somebody. What are you doing for them?
7. Ask the other player to tell you about their favorite meal. Listen carefully, and then tell them what they said.
8. Pretend you’re talking to a new student. What are some polite and friendly things you can say?
9. Ask the other player to tell you about a worry or a problem. Tell them what they said, and one thing they can do about their problem.
10. What are the rules for playing outside at school?
11. What are the rules when a friend comes to your house?
12. Ask the other person to stare at your nose. Does it look like they are making eye contact?
13. Some people divide things when they want to share. What are some things that can be divided?
14. Some people trade when they want to share things. What are some things that can be traded?
15. In a nice way ask the other player to play Candy Land with you.
16. What is something that is hard to do? Ask the other player for help you do that thing.
17. Grab the other player’s piece. Now give it back and say “I’m sorry, I won’t do that again.”

Low Frustration Tolerance
1. What makes you really mad? When you feel that mad, where can you go so you don’t get into trouble?
2. When something gets too hard some people get mad. Pretend you’re telling a mad person
to “Take a break, and calm down.” How long should their break be?
3. Pretend you’re mad. Now do a mad dance and shake it all out!
4. Some people like to laugh at other people. Say, “Please stop laughing at me that hurts my feelings.”
5. Pretend someone is laughing at you and they won’t stop. Name an adult who can help you.
6. Pretend you’re going to hit someone. Say “no hitting,” and walk to the other side of the room.
7. Pretend you are really mad. Take a big breath and blow the anger out S-L-O-W-L-Y.
8. Name one thing you don’t like to be told to do. Ask the other person to tell you to do that thing, and pretend you are doing it.
9. Say “I can wait my turn.” When do you have to wait your turn?
10. Pretend someone pushed you. Say “Stop.” What would you tell an adult if they asked “what is going on?”
11. Pretend you are in the bathroom. Now say all your “potty” words, or words you’re not allowed to say.
12. Say why children don’t like having their toys grabbed.
13. Some adults say hit something soft when you’re mad. What is something soft that you can hit.
14. What is something that is hard to do? Ask the other player for help doing that thing.
15. Think of something mean to say and tell the other player. Ask the other player to say those words and pretend you are ignoring them.
16. Pretend you just turned over the gingerbread man card and you have to go all the way back.
17. Pretend you’re going to lose the game now. Show a good way to handle this.

Connect Four


What you need: Connect four game and blank stickers with emoticons drawn on them and attached to connect four pieces. Click here to purchase the game at amazon for $20

How to play: Prior to playing a game in therapy it is important engage the client in a discussion about how they would like game play to proceed.  Do they want to set it up? Learn the rules? Make up their own rules or modify the standard rules? If it’s a skill based game, such as Checkers or Connect Four, how do they want me to play? I may tell the child I’ve played Connect Four a lot, and usually win.  Do they want me to play my hardest? Some children at that point may give themselves an advantage, for example, dropping in two checkers for my one.

Dodge (2008) suggests client and therapist draw Emoticons on round stickers and attaching the Stickers to the checker pieces (alternatively, feeling words can be written on the stickers). Connect Four is won when one of the players achieves a row of four checkers. The winner is encouraged to create a story that includes the four emoticons on the winning checkers The game can be enhanced by creating a notebook with the child that includes a description of the emotions that go with the Emoticons and where the stories can be recorded.



What you need: Jenga game or generic version. Click Here to purchase this game on Amazon for $10

How to play: There are many different versions of this game. I have attempted to compile a few here.

Click Here for my post containing FREE printable Jenga Question Cards sorted by Topics (Teen Problem Solving, Child Conflict Resolution, Getting to Know you, Getting to Know You Deeper, Anger & Feelings)

TIP: I have used different colored Sharpie markers and written questions per topic all in one specific color. Then when playing with my client, we only use one color of questions to answer.

LIFE: While setting the tower up, talk about things that make us happy. During game play, talk about things that might happen to weaken the tower/life. Discuss what the holes represent and who supports us when we’re struggling. When the tower falls, talk about what might make that happen in life. As you build the tower back up, talk about strategies that we can use to put the pieces of our life back together.

TRUST: Talk about ways to earn and break people’s trust before and while playing the game. When the tower falls, talk about how quickly trust can be broken. When rebuilding the tower we talk about how long it takes to regain someone’s trust once it is broken as well as ways to regain trust.

FEELINGS: Use the colored generic blocks and assign a feeling for each color (yellow- happy, red- mad, blue- sad) and then have prompts on colored sheets of paper to correspond with each feeling. I find that children do best when they are in complete the sentence form (I feel mad when…, What makes me happiest is…, If only my mom knew that _____ makes me sad…)

SOCIAL SKILLS: Write different scenarios that relate to social skills on the blocks. Client answers questions if they pull a block with a question on it. Examples: What makes a good friend? Give an example of the last time you and your friends bullied someone?

FAMILY: Write different prompts about family on the blocks. Client answers questions if they pull a block with a question on it. Examples: What is your favorite activity to do with mom? What does dad do that makes you mad. What is one thing you could change about your family.

ADDICTION: Do not stack up the blocks before beginning. Have clients make suggestions on how building the tower can relate to recovery. Write questions on the bottom of the blocks which the clients pull and answer out loud. Questions like “What is your biggest regret”, “What is your greatest fear”, “If you could change anything in your life what would it be?” While the tower is becoming less and less stable, again ask them, how the tower can relate to their recovery process.

Download a FREE printable with details listed above for each board game here (word document): games

Related Links on the Blog:
  • Click Here for “Get to know you Games” (M&M and get to know your neighbor game)
  • Click Here for a Post with More “Get to Know You Games” ~ free printable board game & All About Me Worksheets!
  • Click Here for my post containing FREE printable Jenga Question Cards sorted by Topics (Teen Problem Solving, Child Conflict Resolution, Getting to Know you, Getting to Know You Deeper, Anger & Feelings)
  • Click Here for Feelings Tic-Tac-Toe Game (free printable)
  • Click Here for Details on Playing Pictionary for Family Game Night
  • Click Here for my post containing many FREE printable Feeling Charts.
  • Click Here for my post containing many FREE Emotion Cards.
  • Click Here for 3 free worksheets/activities teach kids emotional mental health skills (chutes & ladders to teach rewards/consequences; journal prompts for boys – summer theme & Lego Activity practice following directions)
  • Click Here for Operation Game used to teach kids Social Emotional Skills (free printable cards)
  • Click Here for Uno Dare Card game with an extra twist to make it into a Family Bonding Game!
  • Click Here for Anger Alternatives Game “Don’t Get Mad” (free printable – all you need is a penny & players!)
  • Click Here for Social Emotional Trivia Game (Divorce) and Friendship Cards – free printable
  • Click Here for 5 Family Night Games that only require paper & a pencil
  • Click Here for Fortune Tellers, Activities and Games for Autistic Kids (many free printable)
  • Click Here for Tips on How to Make Friends and A Game (Back to school theme)

Original Sources:

  • Taken from: McDowell, Barbara (2004) “The Pick-Up-Sticks Game.” In Kaduson, Heidi Gerard & Schaefer (Eds.) (2004) 101 Favorite Play Therapy Techniques. Lanham, MD, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
  • Taken from: Jessica Hood,
  • Taken from:
  • Taken from: Dodge, Cynthia (2008) “Connect 4 and Oh So Much More.” In Lowenstein, Liana (Ed), Assessment and Treatment Activities for Children, Adolescents, and Families: Practitioners Share Their Most Effective Techniques (available from Toronto, ON, Canada, Champion Press.


Mother, Pediatric Nurse and a Trail Blazer for Positive Change.

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