Part of your never-ending job as a parent, beyond keeping your kids safe and healthy, is teaching them how to be good humans.
Qualities like patience, kindness, empathy, and responsibility can and should be taught while young minds are still developing and learning how to be in the world. Social-emotional learning skills can be taught right alongside spelling and basic math as early as preschool, and are shown to aid children’s development.
Here are five games to help your preschooler develop beneficial behavioral skills. (Sure, you can try them on adults too — it’s never too late!)
1. Teamwork and Listening: Hot or Cold
We all remember this game from childhood: “You’re getting warmer!” Did you know that it teaches children how to be better team players?
How to play: One child gets to be the seeker. Ask them to leave the room for a minute while the other children hide an object.
When the seeker comes back in the room, as they search for the object, other kids should yell out “hotter” or “colder” in reference to how close the seeker is getting to the object. The “hiders” will have to learn not to shout over each other or be confusing in order to lead the seeker to the target and the seeker will learn the value of listening to others for help and advice!
2. Creativity: The “I Never Thought of That” game
Thanks to Parents. for this recommendation! Encourage creative problem solving by showing kids that everyday objects can be more than what they seem.
How to play: Find a few miscellaneous objects, like a scarf, a plastic container, shoes, and a coffee mug. Have the kids sit in a circle and take turns coming up with additional uses for each item. For example, a coffee mug can also be a pencil holder! Or, a scarf can be a fun belt. Silly answers are absolutely allowed. See how many uses the group can come up with for each!
If you’re at home with your preschooler, this game can be a fun way to break up any conversation. Pick up a spoon at breakfast, and ask them to quickly come up with three things it can do! You’ll be giggling together as you secretly foster a mini MacGyver.
This game teaches preschoolers how to think outside the box and come up with on-the-fly answers to tricky questions.
3. Kindness: One Kind Thing
Preschoolers are naturally kind. They might be prone to whining, throwing temper tantrums, and acting out, but, unlike adults, they rarely do so with the intention of hurting the people around them. Their first reactions to strangers are usually positive or neutral — i.e. “that man is tall” or “that lady has nice hair!”
Positively reinforce preschoolers’ predisposition for sweetness by incorporating this game into the day to day. When your preschooler is asking for something — dessert, for instance — ask them to say one kind thing about dinner, like “The broccoli you made was really delicious!”
You can also use this during tough moments when each of you may be getting frustrated with the other. Stop the conversation before it gets too heated, take a breath, and say, “O.K., let’s each say one kind thing to each other before we finish this discussion.”
4. Empathy: Emotional Charades
We all know how to play charades, so we won’t go into detail in explaining the rules, though you might want to simplify them for a preschooler. This is a great learn-by-doing way to help children identify emotions.
Since your preschooler likely doesn’t have the reading skills quite yet to read notecards, someone will have to ask as the clue-giver, whispering prompts to players that each have an adjective and a noun, e.g. “A sad duck,” “a happy monkey,” “a confused snake.”
You and the kids should take turns acting out these prompts and guessing them. Preschoolers will learn how to match expressions and identify them, while having a ton of fun acting out different animals!
Tip: Ask preschoolers how they would respond to the sad emotions expressed by the animals. For example, “Poor sad duck! How would you cheer the duck up?”
5. Cooperation: Hula Hoop Islands
Thanks to Parenting Science for this evidence-based skills game. In a 2004 study, researchers found that children who played games like these routinely over 12 weeks were slightly, but notably, kinder and more helpful afterwards.
How to Play: Divide the number of children playing by three and set out that number of hula hoops on the ground. Let children dance or run around them. When you blow a whistle or stop the music, the children should each jump in a hoop, three children to a hoop (one hoop may be allowed to have two or four, if the number is not evenly divisible).
Children will have to work together and physically hold onto each other to win the game — this is a great way to teach kids the value of teamwork and cooperation.
As a bonus, here’s a great blog post from the Nurture and Thrive blog about turning power struggles with your kids into opportunities for cooperation and joy.
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