Are you tired of trying to get your preschool-aged child to behave? Do you spend hours every day coaxing your child to listen, act in an orderly manner, and put all of their toys away?
Instead of lecturing or nagging your preschooler (which we all know never works), try playing these games. Research shows that preschoolers are developmentally wired to learn best through playing. Interacting with your child via behavioral games like these is important. They are the basis of building critical skills your child will need to be successful later in life (such as honesty, compassion, critical thinking, emotional self-regulation, and creativity).
Plus, these games are so fun that your child won't even notice that they’re learning. So get ready to play these games with your child. They'll be learning, building crucial skills, and having fun—all at the same time!
1. Train Conductor
If you've got cardboard boxes, some colored markers, and a big imagination, you have all the supplies you need to play this game. Just lay out the supplies, and tell your child to use their imagination to transform each box into a train car. (You can also use paint and construction paper.)
Then after your child is done making windows and wheels for the train car, they can hop in the box as you pull it around. Your child can even dress up as a train conductor.
If your child has friends over, that's double the fun. Each child can build their own train car and decorate it. Plus, your child will learn how to cooperate and share with others. This game is good for teaching creativity, imaginative thinking, and perseverance, and it will build a sense of accomplishment.
2. Red Light Green Light
This old childhood favorite is a great way to teach children how to listen and follow directions.
Stand at the front of the room with your back turned. Your child stands on the other side of the room.
When you call out "green light," your child can move forward. But as soon as you call "red light," everyone has to freeze. If you turn around and catch your child moving when they’re supposed to be frozen, they have to go back to the starting line.
The goal of the game is for your child to make it all the way to your side of the room. Since listening to directions is crucial for winning, it’s a good game to teach your child how to listen to others and follow instructions.
3. The Hot or Cold Game
In this game, you'll need to hide a small object somewhere around the house. It can be anything, from a paper clip to a stuffed animal. The smaller the object, the more challenging the game will be.
Show your child the object, then hide it while they’re out of the room. Then call them back in, and tell them to search for it. As they get closer to it, call out "warmer." If they go further in the opposite direction, call out "colder." As your child gets closer to finding the object, say, "You’re getting hotter!" When your child is really close, say, "You're on fire!"
Eventually, your child should find the object. You can hide it again, or have your child hide from you. This game will help teach your child how to cooperate and follow rules, which are both important life skills.
4. Puppet Show
This game is just what it sounds like: create your own puppet show! You and your child can take puppets or stuffed animals and use them to make up a storyline.
You can even get extra creative and make your own sock puppets. Just glue any decorations you want on an old sock, stick your hand inside it, and voila: your very own puppet!
This game is great for teaching your child about creativity, empathy, and executive function (which involves the ability to plan ahead and make logical decisions). Use the puppets to mirror different expressions, and ask your child what they think the puppet is feeling (and if they’ve ever felt that way).
Encourage your child to think creatively and come up with different scenarios: the wackier, the better!
You can also use these puppets to act out dilemmas or disagreements your child may face at school. This tactic will prompt them to come up with a good solution to the problem.
5. I Spy
For this game, you’ll need to pick an object (any object) in the room. But wait: don't tell your child what it is yet!
Then you’ll describe the color of the object and encourage your child to search for it. Start your sentence by saying, "I spy __." For example, you could tell your child, "I spy something blue."
Then your child could guess items, such as a sweater, the cover of a book, a piece of candy, or any other item that matches that color. After each guess, tell your child whether they’re right or wrong.
Eventually, your child should guess the right item. Then switch places. Your child gets to pick, and you get to guess. This game will teach your child the skills of patience and attention to detail.
6. Mother, May I?
This game will help your child learn the value of respect and courtesy. The children are lined up facing you from about 10 feet away.
Give each child a specific command, such as, "Daniel, take one step forward." Daniel has to ask permission by saying, "Mother, may I?" After he asks, you can say, "Yes, you may." Or you can reply, "No, you may not." If he forgets to ask permission at all, he has to go back to the place where he started.
The aim of the game is to be the first person to reach you. The winner gets to be "mother" for the next round. It’s best to play this game in big groups.
7. Two Truths and a Lie
In this game, everyone must go around and say three things about themselves: two that’re true, and a third that’s a lie. Then everyone else has to guess which statement is false.
The person who wins is the one who offers a statement that no one can distinguish as being a lie. This game is valuable for teaching your children discernment. Most preschoolers will be unable to clearly disguise the lie, so it will be very obvious which statement is which.
Afterwards, you can have a discussion about how it feels when someone lies to you. This game is a fun way for children to learn the impact of deception.
8. Keep the Balloons Up
For this game, you’ll need some balloons and an open area that's free of potential hazards. Only children over the age of three can play this game because balloons can be a choking hazard for toddlers.
When you give a predetermined signal, the children have to team up and make sure the balloons stay in the air for a certain period of time. To make the game more challenging, tell each child that they can only touch the balloons with a certain body part, such as the pinky or elbow.
From this game, your children will learn the value of teamwork. By working together to keep the balloons from touching the ground, they will learn that cooperating beats arguing.
9. Treasure Hunt
To play this game, you’ll need small trinkets that you can hide around your house, such as stickers or pieces of wrapped candy. Hide these "treasures" around your house, then make a map so that your children can find the treasure. Make sure to mark the treasure spot with an "X."
Use code words, colors, or secret names to make the treasure more difficult to find. You can even write a series of rhyming clues that your child must figure out—to discover where the treasure is hidden. Then send your child off with the map, and watch them explore!
This game will teach your child perseverance, critical thinking, patience, and logic. In order to successfully find the treasure, your child must plan and execute a series of logical steps, then follow through to achieve their goal.
10. Look on the Bright Side
This game involves telling stories to your child. In the first story, start off by describing something negative that happens. For example, you could tell a story about Bob, who feels cranky and stubborn when it’s hot outside.
Then ask your child to continue the story, but to make something positive that happens next. For instance, Bob could go get an ice cream cone since it is so hot outside. Or he could notice that it’s the perfect weather to go to the beach.
After that, the next player continues the story by telling something negative that happened. For example, Bob's ice cream cone falls on the ground, so he can't eat it.
Then the next player adds something positive, and so on, alternating in a sequence of events until the story ends on a positive note. This game will teach your child ingenuity and the power of positive thinking. By having to continually change the main character's situation in the story, kids will learn to more easily regulate their own feelings and emotions, which can help them stave off temper tantrums.
11. The Divergent Thinking Game
For this game, gather as many random objects from around the house as you can think of. The objects can be anything, from an old shoe to a pencil. Then ask each child to think of as many uses for each object as they can. The more creative the answer, the better!
For instance, a blanket could be used to build a pillow fort, make a teepee, fend off a charging bull, or don a superhero's cape. Encourage your child to think of as many uses for each item as possible. Award points for the most creative or unusual answers. At the end, the person with the most points wins!
This game will help teach your child divergent thinking and creativity. Divergent thinking involves thinking about a problem from several different angles, not in a series of logical steps. Kids will learn that it’s fun to be able to problem-solve on their own, without resorting to help from an adult. This game will also help them mediate their own conflicts, such as settling sibling arguments or dealing with someone who’s teasing them.
12. The Feelings Game
To play this game, you’ll need several large pieces of construction paper, a basket, and a set of markers, pens, or crayons. On each piece of paper, draw a face that shows a different emotion (such as happy, sad, angry, frustrated, scared, or sick).
Then put all of the pieces of paper in the basket, and take turns choosing a face. Then act out the feeling shown on the paper.
If the child chooses a negative emotion, the other children should try to make the acting child feel better. For instance, if a "sad" child is crying, they should ask them what’s making them sad, and how they can help him. After the child answers, the other kids can act out what they would do to help the first child.
This game will teach your child empathy. When children practice reading how other people feel, they’ll become more adept at managing their own emotions, and understanding why it’s important to be kind to other people.
13. The Laundry Sorting Game
In this game, your kids get to help out with chores around the house. And they'll get to have some fun while they’re doing it!
When you do the next load of laundry, separate out all of the socks, and put them in a pile on the floor. Then ask your child to go through the pile and find each sock's match.
After that, show your child how to roll the socks into pairs, and deliver the correct pairs to each person's room. To make the game more fun, put on some music and challenge your child to complete each task before the next song starts.
This game will teach your child responsibility, concentration, and problem-solving. It takes effort to find the correct match for each sock. And by participating in household chores, your child will learn the value of hard work.
14. Follow the Leader
This game is simple. Do an action, and your child has to copy you. For example, put your hands on your head and walk around the room. Then your child must do the same thing. If they don't, they must go to the back of the line and start over.
This game works best with larger groups of children. It’ll teach your child about obedience and observation.
15. Going on a Trip
In this game, start by saying, "I'm going on a trip, and I'm bringing apples."
The person after you has to repeat what you said, then add an item of their own. For example, "I'm going on a trip, and I'm bringing apples and pears."
The next person adds a third item, and so on. If anyone forgets an item or can’t remember the whole list, the game starts over.
This game will teach your child patience and memorization. When they pay attention to what other people say, they’ll learn to appreciate other people's points of view.