I started playing tabletop role playing games (TTRPGs) with my son when he was about 2.5 years old. We started out with simple storytelling exercises where I would ask him questions during the story… and then we progressed into actual game systems.
As of writing this article, we’ve played about 8 systems together with a variety of mechanics, dice, concepts, and themes… and he is picking them up so well!
It has been a very enjoyable experience going through this with him, and I wanted to share in case it helps you decide to make the leap into starting TTRPGs with your child(ren).
- Curiosity, creativity, and problem solving
- Handling disappointment and consequences
- Practicing focus
- Speech development
- Counting and math
- Having fun!
1. Roleplaying boosts curiosity, creativity, and problem solving
When we first started playing, it really was me telling a story that I made up in place of our normal reading time and then I would ask questions about what the main character should do.
We have progressed so far past this.
About 1 month in, he started suggesting other options for solving some of the problems that I presented him with. Now, he doesn’t need me to suggest solutions anymore. 90% of the time, he comes up with them on his own. This was a huge jump in both his problem solving and creativity skills that directly links to us role playing together.
He also started asking questions about the story recently. He wanted to know details about some of the side characters or what was deeper in the forest or past one of the mountains, so… we explored it! It has been a lot of fun watching his curiosity grow through this, and I’m proud that he’s developing an inquisitive mind.
2. Learning to handle disappointment and consequences
Another great aspect to this is that it is a safe place to work out techniques for handling hard points in life.
If I notice my son is getting particularly frustrated with his blocks not working or is shoving his crayons down the air vent and getting upset when they are gone, I integrate parts of that into our next game and teach him coping strategies while he’s calm and having fun.
The character in the game maybe has a hard time climbing a mountain or gets upset when their toy sinks in a lake. We then walk through how the character can calm down using different skills (deep breathing, sing a calm down song, tap shoulders, etc) and then fix the problem or move on. Then, next time there’s a melt down, we can remember what Sven the Yeti did during the last game and he can do the exercise and is OK.
The number of meltdowns went down significantly about a week into trying this, and when he does have a meltdown, they are a lot shorter. This was not just a huge relief for me as the parent, but I’m also confident that he’ll be able to continue using coping strategies as he gets older.
3. Practicing focus
When we first started playing TTRPGs together, we could maybe go for about 5 minutes before he got bored and wanted to try something else.
Now, he has literally sat and played TTRPG-time with me for 1.5-2hrs and was super disappointed when we had to stop to make dinner. That is a toddler staying engaged for hours.
I know that him just growing up is a factor, but this was such a huge shift, I have to imagine there was some impact from playing with him. He now will play pretend either with me or on his own for extended periods of time versus jumping from toy to toy, and he is a lot calmer doing it.
4. Speech development growth
We’ve spent at least 30 minutes a day for the past few months just talking to each other, making stories, and asking questions as we played TTRPGs together. And it really is talking with each other now. I no longer just tell him the story, he participates and helps come up with ideas as we go.
I know that there’s expected to be speech progression with toddlers pretty quickly in some cases, but within 6 months, he went from talking in understandable but choppy short sentences to now busting out clear 10+ word grammatically correct sentences at the dinner table (so it isn’t just when we’re playing games). I think having this talking time each day really helped him practice his speech skills and gain confidence in those skills.
5. Practicing counting and math
Most of the systems we tried out involved some kind of randomization or dice mechanics and number tracking. Prior to starting this, my son could count to 10 pretty well, but now, he’s able to recognize numbers 1-10, is working on counting to 20, and has started some basic math (learning greater than/less than and adding/subtracting small numbers).
I introduced some tracking tools (see previous article) to help him with quantifying numbers more easily, and I think they really helped him make the connection between the numbers and what they mean.
He is also much more willing to practice counting and “numbers learning time” when we replace it with TTRPG time – this really has been learning through play, and it works so well.
6. Sharing a bonding experience
I have gotten so much closer to my son through doing this, and he’s made it clear that he feels more connected too. He gets so excited recounting his stories with me and is much more comfortable asking for help or wanting to play. One of the sessions even ended with him giving a big and an, “I love you mommy” before he dashed off to go play the next thing.
I feel like we’ve gotten to know each other a lot better and see each other through this, and it really helps set aside some time to just be together and form that bond.
7. TTRPGs are also just fun!
My son has SO MUCH fun playing TTRPGs, and I believe that having fun (at any stage in life, but especially for kids) is important to being a healthy person.
I can see when he starts kicking his legs around at the exciting parts, or one time he yelled something to the effect of, “AH!! I need my sword!” and ran away to get a prop. Other times, he’ll laugh at my funny character voices or start making up silly words and character names, giving himself giggle fits.
I feel like kids can definitely have fun on their own too, but… it is an opportunity for me to be there and engage with him during it and start to imprint on him that it is OK to have fun as an adult. It also gives me a chance to provide something for him that brings us both some fun during the day.
Playing TTRPGs with my son has been a rewarding experience for both of us. I feel like he’s grown in both soft and hard skills because of this. I’ve also been able to use it as a teaching tool for him and a consistent metric for seeing how he’s growing so I can adjust and keep up with him. It has also helped us to grow closer and bond over something special that we now share.
I really hope you found this helpful and, if you were considering starting TTRPGs with your child(ren), maybe this assists you in making that choice. I hope you start with your families or classes and see these benefits as well, and please let me know below if this has helped!