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holiday gift
Try a board game instead!

Mental Health Holiday Challenge: No Video Game Gifts


holiday gift
Try a board game instead!

For school age children, the holidays can represent a time to rest, be with family, and play outdoors….or a time to have frenzied video game marathons with the cousins– because, hey, they have new and awesome games!

During the school year, I’ve noticed two blips in the acuity of my younger patients. The first is about six weeks into school, when the honeymoon period wears off and stress is mounting. The second is after the holidays.

At first I wondered why, since a lot of kids do better during summer and other vacation times. Then I realized a typical history during the holidays would be that friends or relatives were visiting, and would often bring over new video games. The kids all gathered in a separate room and would play daily for several hours. The scene?  The adults are happy because the kids are out of their hair, and the kids are having fun with their cousins (or whomever), happily sharing their new electronic toys. The kids are typically on better-than-usual behavior because company’s around, and there is genuine excitement and camaraderie surrounding holiday festivities. This may go on for several days.

It’s all good, right?!   The problem appears when school begins again.   If your child is prone to meltdowns, has trouble organizing themselves, or struggles with focusing on schoolwork, all of these tend to worsen after the holidays if video game sessions are involved. When school resumes, they are thrust back into a situation where higher expectations are placed on them, and this can trigger everything from increased oppositional/defiant behaviors, crying spells, or immediately falling behind in school.    (For information on why this happens, visit the video game page on my website.)

If you notice a pattern like this (or even if you notice any of the above symptoms, in general), challenge yourself and your family to a non-electronic holiday season. Pull out and dust off the board games, or buy a couple new ones as gifts. Card games, like “spoons”, can be played by several kids at once (just make sure they’re similar ages). If you simply tell the kids: “no video games this year”, you’ll be surprised at their creativity. They may grumble, but don’t cave–eventually one child picks up the ball and starts to organize a game or activity. (do a big puzzle, build a snowman, play tag or hide and go seek, have a snowball fight…GO OLD-SCHOOL!)

When I tell parents their child needs a several-week break from all electronic screens, I often hear how the child needs to use the computer for school work. So the holiday season, with no school and no homework, provides an ideal time to give their growing brains a break. It’s impossible to get away from technology, but when opportunities  present themselves to take a clean break, you will never regret seizing them.

Do you have a group game you’d like to tell other parents about?  Tell us the name, objective of the game, and where parents can find more information (if possible).  Indoor and outdoor games are needed.