Beyond Games – How Games Strengthen Life Skills

Beyond games - how playing games strengthens life skills
Written by Kids Hope USA

Do you have favorite games you enjoy playing with your child, grandchild, nephew, niece, or Kids Hope USA student?  

From never-ending Uno rounds to competitive Candy Land turns to extensive Dominoes strategies, games of all kinds are often a favorite activity for kids. And that’s especially true during the one hour spent between a Kids Hope USA mentor and their student.  

Perhaps you and your student have a go-to game that you must play each week. Or maybe each week features a new fun game to explore. In either case, spending time playing games together during the mentoring hour can both bring joy and help your student develop valuable life skills.  

In our article, Beyond Books & Games: How Simple Mentoring Activities Strengthen Valuable Life Skills, we explore how seemingly simple mentoring hour activities, such as playing a game, can really strengthen valuable life skills for your student. The article also notes how reading together can play a significant role in supporting life skills, including perseverance, confidence and focus.  

Here, we’ll explore ways that playing games can help develop and strengthen those important life skills.  


For you, a game of Uno can be an opportunity to have a conversation and entertain your student. But for your student, that simple game can also help reinforce valuable life skills they are developing. Check out this list of six ways that playing games can help your student strengthen these important skills.  

Games Support Communication

Games where you’re taking turns and needing to talk with the other person can be a great opportunity to strengthen communication skills for your student. For example, in the game “Headbandz” the student works with their mentor to ask yes or no questions to discover what their card says. This fun game not only brings joy and laughter but also helps your mentee develop essential verbal communication and social skills. 

But communication doesn’t always need to be verbal. Dr. Emilie DeYoung from Winning At Home says that games can be a great approach if a student is having difficulty using words to communicate with their mentor. “Games can be a bridge for communication,” she said. For example, in a game of checkers, there may not be much that is said, yet there’s still a shared, two-way experience involving nonverbal communication taking place between the mentor and student that can be both fun and helpful.    

Games Help Students Learn Positive Sportsmanship

Games provide a valuable opportunity for students to strengthen and develop positive sportsmanship, especially when the game isn’t quite going their way. When playing competitive games, mentors can serve as a model for how to navigate responding to a frustrating set-back or even losing a game and the student can learn how to celebrate winning a game without making others feel poorly about their experience.  

Games Support Creative Problem-Solving

Imagine a game of Uno where your student has five more cards than you—including a Draw Four card. In this scenario, your student must determine when the right time to play that card is so that he can have fewer cards than you and, eventually, win the game! Scenarios like this, whether in a card or board game, create opportunities for your student to develop and demonstrate creative problem-solving as they assess the situation and decide what the right course of action should be.  

Games Create an Opportunity to Practice Emotional Management

Particularly for competitive players, games can be an emotional rollercoaster. One minute you’re down to your last Uno card and the next you’re drawing seven more cards just to lay down one that fits. As students are developing and learning to manage their emotions, playing games can be a great way to positively reinforce healthy ways to manage emotions.  

Elise Zuber from Winning At Home says that “We learn through experience.” So, when something happens in a game that causes a student to become frustrated, their mentor can help walk them through navigating those emotions in a positive way.

As a mentor, you can encourage your student to first take a deep breath and then ask questions about why they are getting frustrated. From here, you can help model a positive response to a negative emotion by being calm and understanding towards them and their feelings. As you model positive, regulated responses, your student will learn and develop those same skills.  

Games Help Build Perseverance

Games can be tricky sometimes. Especially when the game is new and your student is just learning how to play, games can be a wonderful tool to strengthen perseverance. With the support of their mentor, a student can work to overcome the frustration of not knowing how to play correctly and instead ask questions and push forward to playing the game without giving up.  

Games Strengthen Relationships

In addition to games just being a fun activity, they can also strengthen your relationship with your student. Your student will learn more about you, and you will learn more about your student, including their interests and how they respond to either positive or negative experiences in the game. A game can also be a great opportunity to create memories with each other. They can be small reminders of a time when you both laughed a lot or when your student felt proud of continually winning the game over and over again! 


      A round of Uno or taking turns in Sorry! can be much more than just playing a game. Spending time together with a game has the potential to strengthen valuable life skills that your student is developing.  

      In a Kids Hope USA mentoring program, students and mentors meet one-on-one, for one hour, once a week. This school-based mentoring program helps kids realize their importance and value as an additional caring and consistent adult shows up each week just for them.  

      Are you interested in learning more about mentoring through a Kids Hope USA program? Check out our program page!  

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