Time. When it comes to connecting with your kids, time really is a key element. A bunch of other things are important too -- focus, attention, and activities come to mind first -- but time connects all of them together.
Without time, you don't connect. Period. You can't cram for a relationship with your kids. You build it over time.
In my observations, time is the part that dads mess up the most -- myself included, although I am getting better now, thanks for asking.
When we think about spending time with our kids, we seem stuck in “bigger is better” mode. We ignore moments of time available all around us while we wait for an elusive (and often imaginary) Massive Block Of Family Time to mystically appear in our schedules.
Please, hear me on this: Begin where you are right now with the time you have at hand.
Yes, a supersized block of time invested in your child is a wonderful thing. But so is giving your child five quick minutes of your undivided attention. Or 10 minutes. Or 25. They all count.
“That's all well and good, John,” I hear you say, “but you keep talking about how board games are supposed to help us connect with our kids. Now you're talking about connecting in just a few minutes. Boardgames don't play in minutes -- they play in hours!!”
And that's why I love it when you ask questions. What a perfect segue!
Many classic American games take for-bloody-freaking-ever to play. The gaming evil that is MONOPOLY comes to mind first, but it's only one of many. It's rare to find a mass-market game that requires anything less than 30-60 minutes to play, plus set-up time.
And frankly, carving that much time our of a busy schedule takes advance planning. It's tough - if not impossible - to do that kind of thing spontaneously.
Luckily, board and card games that play in a few spontaneous minutes really do exist, if you know how to find them.
For example, the symbol and color-matching card game Blink (from Mattel, available in most department, toy, and game stores) takes a blinding two minutes to play, including the time you spent finding the game on your shelf, carrying it to the table, and dealing the cards to both players.
Although you can slow the game down to play with a little one (after all, there's no reading in the game, just shapes and colors), kids eight and up usually thrive on its insanely fast pace.
We'll go into more detail in the future on judging a game's playing time and what playing time tells you about how a game might work for your family. But for right now, I need you to wrap your brain around a key fact: spending time with your kids doesn't have to mean hours. It can mean single minutes or tens of minutes.
The most important thing is that you spend the time focused on your child, not trying to multi-task your way through the interaction.
Focused attention multiplies the value of the time you spend with your kids. More about that next week.
(By the way, Blink's clever and speedy play is a great example of what sets German board and card games apart from typical American games. I'll dig into that statement a lot more in the coming weeks, but for now, I'll leave it here to tease you a bit.)