10 Reasons Why Tabletop Games Are Good For Kids

Kids hone their skills in math, public speaking, and reading comprehension under the guise of dragon killing

Tabletop games like Dungeons and Dragons have a contentious history with parents. Between decades of baseless moral panics and a good bit of games leaning on darker themes as a result of being forbidden from many households due to moral panics, it can be easy to forget that many of these games are intended for children. And while I’m not going to say which games or scenarios are right for every child, I will say that there are a lot of benefits.

10. Almost Anyone Can Play Them


If you’re a parent of a disabled child, you’ve probably had an interesting time trying to find a way to include them in various family activities. It can often be a bit like trying to jam a square peg through a round hole and it can be frustrating for all involved.

Tabletop games can be a good activity that everyone can participate in. With fairly minimal adaptation, kids of nearly any ability can play a game like D&D or Pathfinder. You don’t have to have perfect physical conditioning to enjoy a tabletop game. You don’t even have to be able-bodied. If a kid has fine motor impairments, he can use a character creator app and a dice roller app. Visually impaired kids can use theater of the mind. And it’s highly unlikely these games will trigger asthma attacks or photosensitive seizures.

This allows everyone to sit at the table relatively equally without having to worry about their out-of-character conditions. Games, where everyone can participate, are important. Furthermore, playing with kids of all abilities demystifies disability for kids without disabilities.


9. Problems Often Have More than One Solution

Play of all kinds is important. Whether video games, tabletop games, or sports, all play teaches kids important lessons. However, sports and most video games have one limitation: There’s often only one way to play and one most efficient way to win. In sports, you score points (and there’s usually only one way to do that). In video games, you jump on the monsters or center the screen on the thing you don’t want to be alive. And while these games are important to development, there’s often little room for thinking outside the box.

Tabletop games encourage a lot more creativity and experimentation. Depending on the party’s resources, there are many ways to resolve situations. Combat is a frequent and integral feature of many tabletop games. But it isn’t always the only solution. For example, if it is possible for a party with someone good at dealing with animals you might be able to convince the wild wolf pack to leave you alone or even join you. If a party has someone who speaks the enemy’s language, diplomacy is sometimes possible. If a parent is designing a homebrew game for their kids, they can create scenarios where there are multiple solutions.

Encouraging this sort of thinking not only helps them in gaming but in real life. In school and in the real world, kids will encounter problems where the traditional straightforward solution doesn’t work. Tabletop games help kids develop the lateral thinking skills needed to get around these issues.


8. Tabletop Games have More than One Way to Play

To expand on the last point, there’s more than one way to play a tabletop game. Indeed many gamers have written about the different types of players. These players have their own unique and creative ways to play and as long as they aren’t intentionally creating deep conflicts, are valid. You can have the power gamer who likes to tweak his characters to be the most powerful. You can have explorers who like to experience the world. Some role-players enjoy the game for the chance to be someone else. And you have the people who like to induce a bit of playful chaos.

This is good for kids because not every child plays the same way. They may not fit into other games easily and they can grow bored with games where there is only one way to play. Games, where there are multiple ways to play, encourage creativity. They also encourage kids to accept that there is more than one way to play and learn to work with kids who have different styles.

Role-playing is a healthy form of creative self-expression. By trying out different ways to play, kids can enhance different skills. The kid who tries role-playing will learn how to write good backstories and put themselves in another’s shoes. The explorer will learn how to pay attention to details. Powergaming will teach kids about math and research. And the kids who like inserting a bit of chaos can learn how far is too far and how to channel chaotic urges toward the greater good. For best results, encourage (but don’t force) players to try a different style of play with new characters.


7. Tabletop Games Teach Research Skills

I’m not going to sit here and say that your kid’s favorite tabletop game will get them into Harvard (though if for some reason your child does get into Harvard because of D&D feel free to give me credit). I will say that they have academic merit. Consider the process of character creation. 

To make a good character, a lot of research is involved. Even if the kid isn’t power-gaming, they still have to look through books to see what classes and skills go with their preferred playstyle. They’ll have to look through guides and books to see what things are great for all occasions and which are situational. A role-player will have to research the world of the game to figure out how their characters think and would behave in a given situation. And when the DM asks about a spell or ability, they may want to know the page number and rule cited/

These research skills easily transfer to school work. Especially in upper grades where a lot of research projects are assigned. Kids will know how to look up information, compile it, and present it in public.


6. Tabletop Games Teach Cooperative Play

A lot of kids’ games and activities focus heavily on competing. This isn’t a bad thing. But cooperative play is necessary too. One of the key traits of games like D&D is that it’s cooperative. Everyone is typically working for the same goal, even if sometimes for differing reasons.

Cooperative play teaches kids how to plan things as a group. Everyone’s character will have different strengths and weaknesses. Kids will learn how to itemize their resources to determine who is best at different situations and learn how to approach problems as a group,  No one character can fill every role. Kids will often learn how to resolve internal conflicts. The kids and/or their characters will have different perspectives and they’ll have to work through them to solve the bigger problem. The role-player will have to know how to guide his role-playing toward the bigger objective. The guy who likes killing things will have to learn to allow for diplomatic solutions. And the player who enjoys chaos will have to learn to guide the chaos to productive ends.

This is not only a handy skill for school but also life. At home and work, there are often projects that need to be done with people with different talents and perspectives. As adults, they’ll have to know what their talents are and how to apply them.


5. Kids Learn Conflict Resolution Via Application of Rules

One important thing that tabletop games teach is conflict resolution and how to use rules. A lot of people can get annoyed with “rules lawyers” but rules lawyering is a good and often necessary skill to have in the real world.

When a kid is rules-lawyering with a GM or other player, whatever the outcome, they’re learning to resolve conflicts with rational discussion instead of screaming, yelling, or other unhelpful behaviors. If a GM is a child, they’re learning how to exercise their authority fairly and how to apply rules as impartially as possible. And knowing when to apply the letter of the rules or the spirit of the rules is a skill everyone should have.

While they won’t magically become a lawyer in an actual courtroom, using rules to resolve conflicts is a skill used in everyday settings. People make agreements with roommates. Workplaces have rules that can sometimes be misinterpreted. And while turning a child into a rules lawyer can be an exciting experience for you as a parent, it’s better to have a rules lawyer than a child who tries to solve family conflicts with screaming and fighting.

4. Improvements in Math and Vocabulary

Again, your child probably won’t get into Harvard because he’s good at tabletop games. Most math required for a tabletop game doesn’t go beyond addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. That said, they can improve some academic skills. 

In most combat and skill-check situations, there’s a lot of math involved and since calculators are time-consuming, they’ll have to do a lot of mental math. Kids also learn a lot of new words and how to use them. Many of the words used in fantasy games are words that aren’t commonly used.

Learning how to do mental math on the fly increases brain power and learning new vocabulary words increases reading comprehension. Plus it will impress their English teacher to see students use these less commonly used words. And while the mental math needed for a tabletop game won’t necessarily get them into advanced calculus, it’s useful for everyday life.

3. Increasing Public Speaking Skills

A lot of players, both kids, and adults find that their public speaking skills improve after playing tabletop games for a long time. This isn’t hard to figure out. Public speaking skills are necessary to make these games work. 

If you’re a GM, you have to articulate what’s going on. You have to describe the rooms, and the setting, act out the various roles the story requires, and many other things. A GM has to communicate with players clearly what they’re allowed to do. As kids become GMs, they learn these skills. Players also have to do a lot of communicating. Particularly if they’re playing a “face” character. They also have to communicate with each other both in and out of character. Someone might have a plan but they’ll have to speak up to persuade the party that their plan is good and change it on the fly. 

By practicing these skills in the game, they improve in the real world. The best part is, they won’t actively know they’re practicing. One reason a lot of kids who struggle with public speaking become unwilling to even practice it is that the only activities where the practice happens involve some sort of pressure. Teachers assign oral presentations in the hopes of improving students’ communication skills, but by adding the pressure of grades to the mix, they often have the exact opposite effect of what they want. In a game, there’s no pressure. No one gets a bad grade and gets grounded for stuttering in a dungeon crawl. Giving kids a no-pressure environment to practice speaking skills (and not telling them that’s your intention).will help them improve.


2. Kids Learn Long-Term Thinking

One thing about kids (and a lot of adults really) is that they’re not the best at understanding long-term consequences. You can try to explain it, but you’ll be doing that a lot. Sometimes, they need to learn long-term thinking a harder way. A tabletop game is an excellent vehicle for this. A kid can learn these lessons without actually getting hurt.

Unlike a video game, you can’t just. reload a save when you botch a choice in a tabletop game. A choice to do something in a tabletop game matters. If a spellcaster uses a spell and there’s no place to rest, that’s a consequence they’ll have to live with until after the dungeon crawl. But there are circumstances, particularly in homebrews, where lasting consequences could be put on the table. For example, a party that decides to engage in criminal behavior will find themselves unwelcome in whatever place they’re in. They may have to deal with bounty hunters, etc until they clear things up. It’s a hard lesson a lot of new players learn. Even in a game, actions have lasting consequences.

 And I’d argue a tabletop game is the best place to learn this. Usually, when a kid learns that actions have consequences in the real world, something horrible is involved. Hospital bills, criminal records, or becoming a social pariah to the point they have to change schools. But when they do something stupid in-game that leads to major consequences (including character death), they get a memorable story of actions having consequences without their real lives being forever altered.

1. They Can Be A Great Rainy Day/Family Bonding Activity

I know every parent reading this was waiting with bated breath for the usual “This activity is good for kids because there are no screens” bit that has been in every article about activities that are good for kids that has been published since the 80s. That was about the first thing my sister said when I told her I was writing this. But I believe all forms of play that harm no one are important for kids. Even the play that involves the screens. But it is always important to have some screen-free backup plans.

After all, things may happen where the screens don’t work. Maybe the power goes out. Maybe some idiot does something that knocks the Internet out for the whole neighborhood (which can be a major issue since many new video games require online connectivity). And I suppose it is a good way to have some screen-free time. Even if you weren’t intending on running a tabletop game that day, many games have books with short pre-written adventures. Some of them even come with premade characters. Paizo has released a lot of these for both editions of Pathfinder.

Once your tabletop game of choice starts, kids will pretty quickly become so engrossed in their role of knight, rogue, or whatever other class they’re playing, that they’ll forget that the screens aren’t working. Siblings will have a common goal in-game and learn from each other. And sometimes, it’s just fun to cast a fireball at family members.


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As one of North Carolina's numerous rogues, Matt Stafford is always using his stealth and diplomacy skills to get the next scoop.
Gamer Since: 1995
Favorite Genre: RPG
Currently Playing: Dragon Quest 11
Top 3 Favorite Games:Stellaris, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic,

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