10 Ways to Plan a Drama-Free -- and Super-Fun! -- Family Game Night

Wendy Robinson | Nov 9, 2015 Big Kid

family board game nightAs someone who loves games, I was thrilled when I recently realized my youngest child -- at 3 and a half -- is finally old enough to play board games. Now we can have a true family game night.

A family game night is a great (and low-cost!) way for a family to connect and have fun, and it can even teach kids valuable lessons about sportsmanship and following directions. We've now started doing game night on Friday nights, and turns out, my 3-year-old has a killer Bingo winning streak going!

But, when having a game night, it's not always perfect. How do you keep family members of all ages engaged in the game? Prevent meltdowns over losing, and taunting about winning? With these tips from other moms, you'll find it's even easier to plan a low-drama family game night that everyone in your family can enjoy.


Image © skynesher/iStock

  • Stock Up On Games


    "Have a good selection of games so that you aren't playing the same thing every week. It seems like board games are often on sale around the holidays, so I stock up on games my kids will like now and ones that they're not quite ready for yet too." -- Chelsey M., Tempe, Arizona

  • Set House Rules


    "One of the things that helps make game night fun for us (we have two kids, 7 and 4) is to adapt the rules of games to allow for the differences in ability between the kids. We make things more fair or leave out complicated instructions. Like if we are playing a card game, we'll take out the Reverse cards because that confuses the younger one, or we take out the Draw 4 Wild cards because: TEARS." -- Mary K., Des Moines, Iowa

  • Make It Snack Time


    "One of the best parts of game night is skipping a sit-down dinner and doing what we call 'snack dinner' instead. We play games in the living room, and I put out bowls of snacks for everyone to help themselves. I choose foods that can be eaten by hand and are easily shareable. That can include popcorn, grapes, mixed nuts, chocolate chips or candies, and oatmeal cookies. It's a nice mix of treats and healthy snacks." -- Dani W., Seattle, Washington

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  • Prevent Having a Sore Loser


    "If you do games with kids, you will eventually have tears when someone loses. I have one kid who is super competitive and one who doesn't care. One of the things that I've discovered is that when the competitive one loses and gets mad, we give him a choice: You can take a break and the rest of us will keep playing, or you can take a minute to calm down and join us. I've found that if we don't linger on trying to make him feel better and just get to the next game, the tantrum doesn't last as long.

    "I also suggest playing shorter games, so everyone has multiple chances to win. I'd rather play four 10-minute games than one 40-minute game when kids are involved." -- Charity F., Saint Paul, Minnesota

  • Try Bingo


    "One of the best games for kids under 6 is Bingo! Not only does it help them learn numbers and letters, but the fact that the card doesn't have to be hidden makes it is easy for a parent or older sibling to easily help a little one keep up. Plus, it doesn't involve strategy, and everyone who plays has an equal chance to win. And it's fun!" -- Wendy R., Highland Park, Illinois

  • Keep It Short


    "A good game-night rule of thumb is 'the smaller the kids, the shorter the games.' While my 11-year-old can focus on a 30- or 45-minute board game, my 4-year-old starts to wander away after 15 minutes, max! I say do short games first and save the longer ones for when the little ones go to bed or want a break to do something else." -- Heather H., Hudsonville, Michigan

  • Don't Play Games Right Before Bedtime


    "Playing games can make my boys hyper, so we do games early in the evening, starting around 4:30 or 5:00, and then watch a movie together before bed to give everyone a chance to chill out and get sleepy for bed." -- Kelli L., White Bear Lake, Minnesota

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  • Encourage Kind Winners


    "The one thing I'm militant about when we play games is that everyone has to be a good sport, especially when they win. I make sure the winner says 'good game' to everyone else, and I don't allow gloating or trash talk. This is 50 percent wanting my kids to have manners and 50 percent not wanting to see my husband's victory dance when he beats an 8-year-old. (Yeah, he's a little overly invested in game night.)" -- Mandy B., Washington, D.C.

  • Let Everyone Choose a Game


    "One of our rules is that each family member gets to chose one game for us to play, and we all have to play the chosen games without complaining. So, yes, we end up playing a certain boring game that my 5-year-old loves every week, but that game only takes 10 minutes to play. If everyone didn't get to pick, there would be 20+ minutes of whining and fighting instead. It's faster and less frustrating to let everyone choose." -- Susie C., Ames, Iowa

  • Remember the Point: It's Family Time


    "So, here's my thing: Remember what the point of game night is and go from there. My husband is super rules-oriented and so it kills him if we let the kids win or change the rules. But the point of game night is for everyone to have fun and for us to spend time together. Who cares if I throw a game of checkers so the baby of the family wins for once?" -- Erin A., Tucson, Arizona

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