Children love to play games. Yet given the busy pace of life for all in the family in Hong Kong, parents seldom have time to play with their children. Dr Ava L Siegler's book, The Essential Guide To The New Adolescence, brings home some points parents do not naturally think of. One of the things she stresses is that 'games, apart from being fun, serve significant developmental purposes in your child's life'. Playing games with babies, such as 'peekaboo' or 'this little piggy went to market', comes almost automatically, but as children get older most parents tend to stop playing games with them, thinking they get enough play at school or with friends. This is not so, according to Dr Siegler. 'Games teach your child to use her mind and body, help him master ordinary fears and anxieties, stimulate the development of special abilities, encourage respect for routines and rules, give the child an opportunity to master patience and build good character. And as your child becomes old enough to join a team, games provide opportunities for socialisation, an outlet for restless and aggressive energy, and a chance for the child to shape both competitive and co-operative skills,' she says. Hong Kong psychologist, Geoff Lo, also stresses the importance of games. 'My personal experience with games with my father left me with sweet memories of my childhood. The games strengthened the bond between us. My father used to tell me 'you're not a man until you can lift me off the ground'. For years we engaged in a semi-aggressive game of wrestling. I was finally able to lift him when I was 13. 'I think most of the time games are for pure enjoyment. Learning through games is great fun, but we needn't question or analyse too much. We just need to play games with our children,' he says. What piqued my interest in this topic was watching my mother play with my six-year-old daughter. They have played card games and even Monopoly - albeit on an amateurish level and fraught with cheating on the child's part. My daughter is thrilled by these games and what I hear from the side-lines (from the arguing that goes on!) is that she is also learning rules and not to cheat. In her book, Dr Siegler recommends appropriate games that parents can play with their children from birth until their early teens, and stresses the importance of parents playing games with children throughout this period of their lives. Children from the ages of two to four, for example, revel in make-believe or pretend play. 'This is the age when your child's spontaneity and imagination are at their peak. The child is learning to organise and sequence ideas by making up a story with a beginning, middle and end. He's also taking on roles that help him channel aggressive . . . and competitive feelings in a safe way through stories,' she says. In the four to six age group, emerging mental and physical maturity make it possible for the child to focus, sit still and concentrate for longer periods of time, says Dr Siegler. New skills such as sharing and counting open a whole new avenue in game-playing. Children at this age also have enough planning ability to set up tea-parties, to buy make-believe food and play doctor with a kit. At this age it is also important for parents to introduce the concept of winning, losing and good sportsmanship. 'It's quite normal for a five-year-old to start losing and throw the game around the room. In this case you need to - rather than criticise the child - empathise and say 'It's hard to play when you are losing, but this is the way it goes'. If the child can't pull themselves together it is better to stop the game and explain that until they can win or lose, it is better not to play,' says Dr Siegler. Six to nine is classically, according to Dr Siegler and other psychologists, the age when cheating rears its head. 'No matter what the game, fairness becomes a typical concern for children of this age because by now moral development has deepened and your child can discern right from wrong. Nevertheless many six- to nine-year-olds still want to win at all costs and will try to bend the rules,' Dr Siegler says. She warns that this is a critical stage for parents to teach that earned success builds self-esteem and that cheating is not acceptable. 'Rather teach them at this stage that in all games, as in life, sometimes we win and sometimes we lose.' The old adage of 'It's not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game' is a good one to introduce to children of this age. When children become teenagers, the pressure on them to win and perform increases and this is when parents have a role to really support their children for who they are (praising good sportsmanship) and not for what they do. We can conclude from what Dr Siegler says in her book, that if parents have played enough with their children, taught them how to win and lose, then it will pay off at this time, and hopefully continue throughout their lives.