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How can we communicate in a fun and effective way?

By: Health & Wellness Coordinator, Chapel Taylor-Olsen, BA, & Health & Wellness Faculty, HEART Initiative, Dr. Ashley Yaugher

Board game

For most of us, communication strategies are something we only think about when facing a conflict (e.g. marital issues, asking for a raise, addressing teens breaking house rules, etc.). However, communication is not just for conflict resolution – it affects every part of our lives. The good news is that you can use fun to create more effective communication within your family. 

According to Dr. Susan Heitler (as cited in Ackerman, 2020), “When people say, ‘We have a great relationship,’ what they often mean is how they feel when they talk with another. They mean, ‘I feel positive toward that person when we interact. I send and I receive positive vibes with them (para. 10).’” Here are 4 tips to improve your relationships through fun and effective communication, including (1) Harness the Power of Play, (2) Family Game Nights, (3) Video Games, and (4) Games for Stressful Situations.

(1)  Harness the Power of Play
Researchers have found that play is essential for children. It helps their peace of mind, enables them to learn, teaches them critical social skills, and is even used in professional therapy settings to help children deal with big emotions (Yogman et al., 2018). Play also supports the “safe, stable, and nurturing relationships with caregivers that all children need to thrive” (Yogman et al., 2018; p. 1.).

Play is not only the territory of children. Adults who incorporate play in their own lives find that they are more productive at work, engage in more positive communication with their family members, and enjoy their lives more (Brown & Vaughan, 2009). Playing together means sharing in joy, communication, and attunement (i.e., being “in tune” with others) and can decrease the body’s stress responses (Yogman et al, 2018). Dr. Stuart Brown (2009), who has spent his career studying play writes, “I don’t think it is too much to say that play can save your life…Life without play is a grinding, mechanical existence organized around doing the things necessary for survival (p. 11).”

Sometimes, the unstructured, spontaneous play that children naturally engage in is difficult for adults. However, the power of play can also be harnessed through structured games (e.g. card games, video games, board games, etc.) to help your family members feel connected to one another and enhance your communication. Adding a family game night to your weekly routine can be a great way to do this.

(2)  Use Family Game Night to Improve Your Communication
Some games can improve communication directly by engaging the players’ language skills. These range from complicated games for older players like Scattergories® and Balderdash® to simple games like Uno®, and even Go Fish that you can play with a basic deck of cards that you probably already have (Walck, 2017).

Some games develop other skills like problem solving, turn taking, reading body language, and negotiating. Most games require communication to interact with and respond to each other throughout the game, and some rely heavily on it: Charades, cooperative games, Apples to Apples® (Jr. or Original), Clue® (Jr. or Original), and Monopoly® (Walck, 2017). 

(3)  Video Games as Communication Tools
If you’re a video game family, don’t be afraid to think of video games as a tool for fun communication, too! Multi-player video games have been shown to help kids feel positive emotions, improve their social skills, increase relaxation, and reduce anxiety (Granic et al., 2014). Researchers studying social connection and loneliness in online multi-player games found that playing these games was associated with an increase in players’ sense of identity and role in a social group, as well as decreased loneliness (Kaye, et al., 2017). Hewett and colleagues (2020) specifically studied the open-ended building game, Minecraft®, and found that it helped kids learn important problem-solving skills and improved team work between players. Some other ideas include: 

  • Join in with family members – If one of your family members has a multiplayer game that they already like to play, join in and play with them! This shows you’re interested in learning about what they care about and gives you an opportunity to share play.
  • Play a new game together – If games start to feel stale, it can be fun to start a new game! Mario Party®, 1-2-Switch®, and Minecraft® are just a few examples of multi-player options!

(4)  Games for Stressful Situations
You might find that sometimes playing games together brings out tension, rather than relieving it. There are ways to deal with this too. Try these three tips for situations like this:

  • Change the rules – for some kids stimuli like timers that buzz, complicated rules, and high stakes elements can be too stressful to allow for fun. Be flexible and you’ll teach your kids flexibility through modeling! Make the rules suit your family or move on to a new game if one isn’t working (Walck, 2017).
  • Play cooperatively – you can take a game you already have and play it in pairs/teams or you can find a cooperative game to play where everyone works together toward a common goal such as Silly Street®, Cranium Hoopla®, and Forbidden Island®. For more ideas, check out The Spruce’s 7 Best Cooperative Games of 2020.
  • Model good sportsmanship – it’s normal for your kids to have big feelings about losing a game. If you respond to them with empathy, acknowledge their feelings without judgment, and model good sportsmanship yourself, even a negative response to playing a game can be a good learning experience and point of connection (Faber & Mazlish, 1980).

There will be many communication challenges in the life of every family. Laying a foundation of connection through fun, regular play together can be an investment in future harmony and positive communication.

Start today by trying one of the above tips and see the additional resources below that overview other games that improve communication, benefits of games, blogs of game ideas, and information on play therapy for more!



  • Ackerman, C. E. (2020, June 4). 49 communication activities, exercises, and games. Positive Psychology. https://positivepsychology.com/communication-games-and-activities/
  • Brown, B., & Vaughan, C. (2009). Play: How it shapes the brain, opens the imagination and invigorates the soul [ebook edition]. Penguin Group USA. 
  • Faber, A., & Mazlish, E. (2004). How to talk so kids will listen & listen so kids will talk. HarperCollins Publishers.  
  • Granic, I., Lobel, A., & Engels, R. C. M. E. (2014). The benefits of playing video games. American Psychologist, 69(1), 66-78. doi: 10.1037/a0034857 
  • Hewett, K. J. E., Zeng, G., & Pletcher, B. C. (2020). The acquisition of 21st-century skills through video games: Minecraft design process models and their web of class roles. Simulation & Gaming, 51(3), 336-364. doi: 10.1177/1046878120904976
  • Kaye, L. K., Kowert, R., & Quinn, S (2017). The role of social identity and online social capital on psychosocial outcomes in MMO players.  Computers in Human Behavior, 74, 215-223. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2017.04.030
  • Walck, C. (2017, November 29). Developing Communication Skills Through Games. Carol Walack & Associates. http://www.carolwalckandassociates.com/blog/2017/11/26/developing-communication-skills-through-games
  • Yogman, M., Garner, A., Hutchinson, J., Hirsh-Pasek, K., Golinkoff, R. M, & AAP Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health AAP Council on Communications and Media. (2018). The power of play: A pediatric role in enhancing development in young children. Pediatrics, 142(3). doi: https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2018-2058