Playing games in therapy is one of my most favorite things to do in my profession as a therapist. Children especially enjoy game play, as they also like having a willing opponent in which to play games. In my practice, I use specialty therapeutic games, which are games that are specifically created and designed to address particular mental health issues and challenges (e.g., impulse control, positive thinking, etc.), as well as traditional board and card games that you can purchase at a department store (e.g., UNO, CandyLand, etc.). I call this latter group of games “non-therapeutic” because they were not specifically designed to be used as therapeutic techniques in mental health. The truth is that regardless of whether a game is specifically designed with a therapeutic purpose in mind or not, ANY game can be made to have therapeutic value in my playroom.
I’ve explored various techniques that I use with the games Jenga, Find It, and Sorry! in previous posts. In this post I’m going to show you the therapeutic value of the classic game Perfection with children who have difficulty with focus, attention, and concentration and those who need to develop more effective problem-solving skills and appropriate coping strategies. Perfection is an excellent game to help with all these things!
The object of the game Perfection is to fit all the shapes into their matching holes in the game tray. Pictured in this post is the travel edition of Perfection, which includes 16 shapes, but the original game actually has 25 shapes that you have to fit.
To set the game up, the player spreads the shape pieces next to the game tray so that he or she can easily access the pieces. It helps if all of the handles are facing up, though if you’re looking for the added challenge, leave the shapes as they are. Then the player sets the timer (on the game tray) so that they have 60 seconds of time to complete their task (for the travel edition of this game, the timer will be set to 30 seconds as there are fewer shape pieces).
Next the player simply presses down on the game unit’s pop-up tray and starts the timer. The player then has to quickly fit the shapes into their matching holes. If he or she finishes before the timer runs out, they should quickly turn the timer off; their turn is over and they have successfully completed their task (they win!). If he or she DOES NOT finish before the timer runs out, the tray will pop up and scatter the shapes all over (and nearly scare you both to death in the process!).
Perfection is played no differently in therapy than how it is played regularly. When I first introduce the game to a child, I teach them how to play and let them play two or three times without any intervention from me. During this independent game play, I observe the child’s behaviors: Does the child become easily frustrated? How does the child handle the stress and frustration of trying to beat the timer? Is this method effective for them? How well are they able to concentrate and focus? Are they easily distracted? More likely than not, you will find that most kids get in such a hurry to beat the timer that they actually decrease their efficiency of successfully completing the task due to their inability to remain calm and focus on the task itself.
After the observation phase, I discuss my observations with the child. I then prompt him or her to brainstorm ways to improve, offering suggestions such as slowing down, remaining calm, using deep breathing techniques, and staying focused. I then role play these new techniques with the child while they play the game again (and sometimes, again and again).
Soon you (and the child) will see visible improvement in their efficiency in completing the game’s task. The goal, whether achieved that day or a few sessions down the road, is for the child to be able to utilize effective and appropriate coping and problem solving skills during game play, as well as in real life situations that he or she may encounter. For this reason, it is important to process and even role play these new skills and how they can be utilized in various life situations, such as when taking a test in school. It’s remarkable how easily kids will remember their new skills all because they played the game Perfection!
I love using games in therapy, and kids love playing games in therapy! Last week I posted about the use of the Jenga game as a therapeutic intervention during counseling sessions. It’s an excellent resource for just about any topic or skill that you’re trying to teach to kids, adolescents, and adults alike. I use a number of games in therapy sessions, both therapeutic and “non-therapeutic.” The difference between the two is what their intent and purpose was when the game makers created them. “Non-therapeutic” games are simply those that you can find at your local department store in the game aisle, like Candy Land, Jenga, and Operation, but in my experience, ANY game, regardless of its intent during creation, can be made therapeutic. Today’s game can be found in both therapy resource catalogs AND the game aisle.
Find It as a Therapeutic Intervention
Find It, like Jenga, is another one of my favorite “non-therapeutic” games to use as a therapeutic intervention with children and adolescents. Find It is a classic I Spy game that comes in a nice sturdy cylindrical container filled with miscellaneous small objects to find (e.g., a rubber band, an eraser, a feather, etc.) that are hidden in a colorful array of beads, pebbles, or dried rice (depending on which version of Find It that you choose). I primarily use the game with children and teens that I’m treating for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or who have other issues in which they have difficulty with focus and attention. I use the game to help improve their concentration and focus, as well as to informally assess their distress tolerance. The object of the game is simple: Find as many objects from an included list as you can. You can do this activity timed or take as long as you need.
The first time I give a child the Find It game during session, I collect baseline data by setting a time limit (for example, 10 or 15 minutes) and assess how many objects they can find within that given time frame. The game itself includes a small notepad checklist, so we mark each item off as it is found. I write down the time limit I give the child (whether it was 10 or 15 minutes) and the number of objects found, and then I put the information in the child’s file so I can access it in future sessions.
How Often to Use Find It in Session
We play the game intermittently; the next time we play the game is generally a few sessions after I’ve collected the initial baseline data. The sessions in between are spent doing other focus improving activities in order to help the child develop his or her skills. When we play the game again, I give the child the same time limit as before. Again the child is asked to perform the same task: Find as many objects as possible before time is up. The objects are never in the same place as they were initially, as each movement of the container shakes and jumbles the objects around. I record the data afterward, just as I did the first time the child played. This time I’m looking to assess whether the child’s scores (number of objects found in a given time) have improved as a result of our working on their focus, concentration, and attention span.
Find It as a Tool to Improve Distress Tolerance
Find It also allows me to see how a child tolerates the distress and frustration that comes with sometimes having difficulty finding the small objects. During game play, if a child is becoming noticeably distressed, I teach coping and self-regulation methods that they can use to slow down and bring their focus back to the game again. Between sessions, we will work on improving the child’s distress tolerance and learning effective coping skills to help handle frustration.
How Long to Use the Find It Game
I generally give the child the Find It game and assess their focus once every few sessions until I see that their scores have significantly improved and/or their distress tolerance is handled appropriately on a consistent basis. Once I see that the child has improved, we put the game away, though the child usually ends up getting it out at the beginning or end of future sessions as a transition activity.