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Why I let my kids struggle while gaming

When it comes to parenting, I am aware that there are two extremes that are both very unhelpful for children. You can be the helicopter parent who tries to do everything for the kid and hover around, ready to assist whenever there’s the slightest issue… or you can be a parent that’s so hands off as to be either uncaring or authoritarian. I’ve tried hard to strike a balance that encourages kids to grow while still being available to teach, encourage, and nurture.

Part of this approach, especially as of late, is learning the value in letting a kid struggle with a problem. Man, it’s hard as a dad not to instantly jump in and fix what they’re doing wrong or tell them the instant solution. But they’re not going to really learn having me do everything for them. So I’ll tell them the steps to making breakfast and then hang back, ready to pull them away if they set a fire but otherwise let them figure it out. They’ll come up to me with a homework problem that they want the answer, and instead I’ll restate the question clearly, point out a few things that they should pay attention to, ask some leading questions, and then wait for them to make the connection.

That brings me to gaming, especially now that I’ve introduced two of my children to adventure games. My son and daughter saw me playing the Curse of the Monkey Island and thought that was really funny, so I gave them permission to play it themselves. They’ve never really played puzzle-oriented titles like this, so it was a huge adjustment to how they games. But to their credit, they did adjust and felt compelled to keep going for the jokes and advancement.

Early on, they kept coming to me wanting solutions to the tricky puzzles, but I kept refusing to give it to them. You do that once, you’ll be doing that forever. I did listen as they shared their current adventures and what they were struggling to solve. I’d commiserate — “Yeah, that part was tricky for me too!” — but I wasn’t going to spill the beans. They weren’t pleased, but after a bit, they stopped seeing me as a potential walkthrough and more of a sounding board.

A really interesting development is that the two of them ended up bonding over this game as they worked together to solve it. They’d be playing independently but getting together afterward to share discoveries and theories. And after a couple of months of intermittent play, they beat it — without my help.

Sometimes it’s good to let a kid struggle, to get bruises, to learn to cope with frustration and challenges without over-relying on a parent for a quick fix. I have hope they learned something from this process. Now to let them play the first game…

3 thoughts on “Why I let my kids struggle while gaming

  1. This is such a cool approach, and I’m sure that they felt much more satisfied with the experience of figuring everything out for themselves! As a kid growing up without gaming parents or the Internet, I had to rely on myself to get through games. Okay, sure, I picked up some tiny tips from Nintendo Power magazine sometimes, or from other players. But there were no such thing as walkthroughs, and I became better for it, I feel.

  2. “Early on, they kept coming to me wanting solutions to the tricky puzzles, but I kept refusing to give it to them. You do that once, you’ll be doing that forever.”

    I wish Google was as good a parent to me as you are to your kids. It always gives me the answers straight-off then I feel like I’ve cheated myself by looking them up.

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