Top 3 Board Games to Foster Therapeutic Skill Development

Board games not only provide a cure for rainy day boredom or a source for family entertainment, but they also provide a positive and collaborative outlet in which critical thinking and interactional skills can be enhanced. Therapeutic board games are not needed to help identify and foster skills like compromise/negotiation, turn-taking, impulse control, frustration tolerance and problem-solving.  Even the most fundamental games can facilitate the integration of these key social factors. Child growth and development in the most natural of settings provides real-life applications for how to implement these skills.

Here are a few of my favorite games to help foster skill development:

Connect 4: Success in this game comes from anticipating the next person’s move and negotiating his own patterns, while also making moves that prevent the other player from achieving his pattern. Social thinking, impulse control, and frustration tolerance are essential when playing this game. Teaching your child to look not only at his own goals, but also at the potential goals of the other person, is critical to win. One strategy to improve social thinking is to also implement impulse control. Ask your child to Stop, Think, Act.  This will help foster more favorable outcomes.

At the onset of his turn, encourage your child to do the following:

  • Stop!
  • Think about his future move.
  • Think about his opponents next perceived move.
  • Act. Put his chip in.

Add a visual or written schedule to decipher the appropriate steps for each turn.  This will help foster social thinking as well.

If your child gets upset if he lost the round, encourage him to evaluate the size and severity of this problem. This is a small problem, as compared to getting bullied or falling down and hurting himself, so the reaction should be small too.  For example, “Oh well, I can try again next time.” or “It’s ok to win and lose at times.”

Candyland: Candyland allows children to practice frustration tolerance and feelings identification by turning this fun (and delicious) game into an opportunity to process thoughts and feelings.  The game also provides strategies to manage situations that elicit various emotions.

Frustration tolerance can be addressed if and when the child gets sent back spaces on the board. Allow your child to process his frustration, but also encourage him to acknowledge that this is a normal function of the game.  He may have the chance to advance later on. Additionally, this is a “small” problem when compared to more serious situations and therefore requires a small reaction like, “Oh bummer, I am still having fun.” Feelings identification can be addressed by assigning each feeling a color.  Your child can then process situations that make him feel happy, sad, mad, and nervous in addition to qualities that he likes about self and wishes that he had, using a system of colors he understands.

Through expression in this non-threatening setting, the parent can learn more about their child’s emotional triggers and problem-solve with them about how to resolve negative emotions when they occur.

Guess Who: Guess Who allows kids to work on categorizing, organizing information, and impulse control. Help your child to start with general, open-ended questions and then show him how to filter down to more specific information.  This can help him better organize information and facilitate impulse control. This game also helps with frustration tolerance. At times, with just a few people left in the Guess Who game, your child might want to impulsively guess a person’s name without continuing to identify more specific qualifiers. Getting told no about a question he posed might prompt a child to continue guessing when it is appropriate for them to forfeit the turn. The following steps will help with frustration tolerance:

  • Assist and model for the child what questions are most helpful;
  • Challenge the child to report back to information that he already knows to help formulate future questions;
  • Encourage the child to close his eyes and imagine a stop sign to facilitate both stopping/ waiting until his next turn to ask another question;
  • Restrain the desire to guess the character’s name prematurely.

Have fun and help your child develop important social skills with these fun games!



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