Oh, yes. I’m going there. I’m bringing out the biggest, geekiest, and perhaps most endearing guns in nerdom: Dungeons & Dragons (D&D). Not a nerd? Don’t be scared. Hear me out.
At the risk of over-simplifying, D&D is a cooperative endeavor in which players use strategy and creativity to take on challenges. At the heart of it, isn’t that what families do every day?
According to the Dungeon Master’s Guide (the DM runs the game, much like the parent), here are the “supplies” you need for D&D. I think you’ll find they’re strikingly similar to what you need for the adventure of raising a family.
You may even encounter some good ideas in here. (D&D pun. Sorry. I couldn’t help myself.)
A Place to Play
In D&D, it’s usually just a table (unless you’re this guy). For families, it’s obviously more expansive, though in my opinion, it can both fun and sophisticated, creative and contained.
For ideas on getting creative (and organized) with your kids’ play space, check out my Imaginative Play Spaces board on Pinterest.
It’s nice to have “backup,” whether you’re a DM or a dad. Sure, your kids (and players), should defer to your almighty opinion, but if they’re learning the same lesson from rule books, of sorts, then it will lend your opinion greater credence.
There are many great kids’ books that convey life lessons in a fun and enlightening way. I particularly like the Mercer Mayer books, Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s Little Books, and of course many of the Dr. Seuss books.
Adults tend to march to the beat of predictability. But kids learn from new experiences, and mixing things up increases opportunities for new and diversified knowledge.
So why not take a cue from the dice-rolling randomization of D&D:
- Have a free afternoon? Assign six new activities to the numbers of the dice, and roll it to see what you’ll all go try together.
- Bored with your typical menu of meals? Pick six foods you’ve never tried, and roll to see which one you’ll try for dinner tonight.
- Or ditch the dice and get everyone in the family to write something they want to do on a piece of paper. Drop the suggestions in a bowl, mix them up, and randomly draw one.
Paper and Pencils
In D&D, you use paper and pencils for three basic purposes, to (1) create, (2) remember, and (3) communicate. Same holds true in the family realm:
- Create: Collaborating on a project (whether it be a home art piece, a science project, or an epic campaign) will teach you a lot about one another.
- Remember: Honoring your family’s shared experiences is important for charting its growth together. Create an annual scrapbook, time capsule, or home video.
- Communicate: Corralling a bevy of minions is nearly impossible if you don’t communicate. Sometimes that’s easier said than done. Kids (or even parents) may be embarrassed, shy, or worried about certain topics. Consider writing entries to each other in a parent-child journal like this.
You’re not going to get along all the time. There will be disagreements and downright fighting. It’s only natural. You’re all different people with different personalities and opinions. The important thing is to have a way to work it out. Then make sure everyone is aware of that, and be consistent.
You’ll need a plan that takes into consideration parent-parent arguments, too. You can teach your kids a strong lesson if you can stick to the same rules of communication and cooperation that you require of them. Show your kids you’re not just enforcing; you’re participating.
Dungeon Master’s Screen
This is a different kind of time out … of the enjoyable order. Parents, it’s imperative that you have your me time. You need to relax, reflect, and show your kids you have a life with interests and passions you pursue of your own accord. Isn’t that eventually what you want for them? We are each the captains of our souls, after all. As they say in marketing: Show it, don’t tell it. You’ll all be the better for it.
Yep, in D&D, you play with dolls—tiny little plastic figurines that represent characters within a situation (think chess pieces). And there’s nothing wrong with that. Get down with your toddler and play with those Little People and LEGOs. Talk about sharing, imagining, and being brave. Listen to what they say and watch how they play. You can learn a lot about each other this way.
Chart the growth of your child as they “level up,” with one of these ideas or your own:
- Get one of the many pre-packaged journals for this purpose. I like Your Birthday Book, which only requires 1-2 pages of annual “work” on the parents’ part.
- Note things your kids say, enjoy, and do in a notebook.
- If you’re craftier or more ambitious than I (and that’s saying something): scrapbook.
- If you’re a Facebook or Twitter junkie (like me), comb through your status updates at the end of the year, and copy and paste relevant posts into a doc that you can print or file away on a disk.
- Make a digital photo album. Shutterfly has a great ABC book that I used for this purpose, charting Szaba’s growth from age 0-1.
Yes, this is officially in the DM Guide, which cracks me up. Parents already know how important this one is. A potential tantrum-worthy situation can be easily diffused with a box of raisins (just as D&D questers can be deterred by Doritos).
Computers, PDAs, Smart Phones, and Digital Cameras
It goes without saying that parenting is a technological affair these days. As much as people complain about that, I personally think it’s incredible that our kids will have such easy access to a diverse world of knowledge, entertainment, and socialization.
At the risk of sidetracking into a rant, I’d also rather have my daughter play video games that challenge her creatively and strategically (versus the passivity of TV shows and movies), but that’s another post for another day …
Well, you obviously don’t need this particular resource for parenting, but chances are you have your go-to sites, magazines, blogs, books, or even fellow parents. You don’t know everything, and you never will. Don’t try to. Have your trusted parenting reference points (I like this book), use them, and above all, stay sane. You know your kids better than anyone else. Start from there.
Yeah, duh! Having kids gives you a time machine back to childhood. Live it. Appreciate it. Enjoy it. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Learn from your mistakes and successes along the way. Parenting is an epic adventure, after all, and you’re well on your way to being their hero.
Continue to D&D Parenting, Part 2: The Players …