More than Strategy – Teach Emotional Intelligence through Board Games

More than Strategy
More than Strategy

This post was written by guest contributor Chrissy Wissler.

Board games are amazing for teaching our kids strategy and critical thinking, supporting their growing reading skills and comprehension. But board games also offer something that’s not talked about as much… the chance to grow, to stretch and expand their emotional intelligence.

Theirs, and ours.

Okay, you might be thinking, that sounds well and good but what the heck does ’emotional intelligence’ even mean? Or even more telling, what does this look like in us, the adults?

What is Emotional Intelligence?

Think about those times when you were heavily invested in a game—and lost. And we’re not just talking a small defeat here, we’re talking the winner lapped your score by a hundred points. Instead of laughing it off, of simply enjoying the game you played and all those great moments, you’re furious. You want to storm out of the room and perhaps never play that game again.

Child making a puckered, angry face
How are you feeling right now?

Or maybe you feel shame. Maybe your thoughts sound more like: “You’re a terrible gamer.”

Or: “You’re not good enough.”

Or: “Why do you even keep trying?”

Now, let’s flip this scenario. Perhaps you were the winner of the game and people say, “Wow, you won, that’s awesome!”

They go on, congratulating you, except you’re shrugging off their words because you’ve been taught to not ‘toot your own horn.’

You literally can’t hear their praise. Instead it’s like your ears and heart are closed to their words. And perhaps once again, you can’t find the joy you had while playing the game or maybe you, unconsciously, won’t allow yourself to feel that joy.

Being Aware of Emotions

Emotional intelligence is first about being aware: aware of your emotions, of how you’re either unconsciously or consciously reacting in these moments. It’s also being aware of the emotion of the person (or persons) across the table from you. It’s being able to sit with your feelings when it’s needed, as uncomfortable as they can be, and then regulate those emotions. (Being mad is okay; it’s okay to be mad. Screaming and yelling and cursing, on the other hand, not so much.)

Emotional intelligence is the awareness that these emotions are there in the first place, what they mean, and what you can do about it as well as shifting your thoughts in another, more positive direction. It’s about empathy and understanding what the person across from you is feeling and bridging that gap.

Yuck face
It’s OK to feel this way

Emotional Intelligence and Board Games

Board games bring up so many wonderful opportunities to practice emotional intelligence, to bring awareness to our feelings and how our words and actions can hurt others. Anyone can go online and watch ‘how to play’ videos, or read board game rulebooks, but what how about actually sitting with your children while they’re in these emotions? Helping them navigate what they’re feeling—or what others are feeling?

This is a process that takes time, focus, and direct support, but it’s so very worth it. These are life skills. These are skills that, without realizing it, will help our kids as they grow into the world, as they find who they are, the jobs they’ll be in one day, navigating relationships, and so much more. Holding empathy and understanding, being able to have a civil conversations, or maybe just a civil presence, with someone they might heartily disagree with and whose mind they’ll never change.

Yet it all comes together.

All this here, of what we do in board games, it’s all practice… for life.

I hope you’ll go on this journey with your kids or the kids in your life. Play games with them, have fun, and when those moments that aren’t fun come up (and they totally will and might not just be them; this emotion stuff might very well be coming from you), know it’s okay to have these strong feelings.

It’s okay to be angry that you lost. It’s okay to be sad and cry because someone took the card you really, really wanted. You are allowed to feel all that… and it’s okay for us, as parents and adults, to sit with our kids in the darkness, in those shadowy places that society and our culture continually tells us we shouldn’t feel.

It’s okay… and when the kids (and you!) are ready, try again. Then, keep playing. Keep learning.

Because the best way to learn in life—is through play.

boy holding large dice
Let’s play again!

Chrissy Wissler is a professional writer of fiction, parenting blogs and raising differently-wired kids, and also—a gamer. She runs the Homeschool Board Game Club in Torrance, California, sharing her love of games and supporting kids with the community. If you’d like to learn more, check out: and