One of the games I loved AND hated as a kid was “Chutes and Ladders.”
Basically, “Chutes and Ladders” is a random game of chance that all depends on the spin of the spinner and where you land. When I played the game as a kid, I rarely looked at the pictures, but the pictures actually try to teach the player that actions have consequences. If you take a closer look at the pictures, good, productive, and helpful actions will be rewarded with good consequences and climbs up the ladder towards ‘winner’ tile, while silly, stupid, and bad actions will reap bad consequences and chutes that bring you further from the ‘winner’ tile. Overall, this is a game that’s great for teaching about consequences to younger, elementary school kids.
However, here’s a twist. Play this game with your middle schooler, high schooler, or young adult, and call it, “The Journey of Chutes and Ladders.”
Whenever a person lands on a ladder that propels them forward, have the person talk about an event in their life where they felt like they were climbing the ladder, getting ahead in life, or just having a good day. Have them talk about the circumstances or actions that led them to feel that way. Have them talk about how that felt.
Whenever a person lands on a chute that drops them back, have the person talk about an event in their life where they felt like they fell, failed, or just having a bad day. Have them talk about the circumstances or actions that led them to feel that way. Have them talk about the feelings that they struggled with or if they were able to get out of it.
Allow the game to bring out the natural frustrations, disappointments, sadness, anger, or even excitement, elation, joy, and courage that this game could invoke, and allow everyone to relate or tie it to something that has happened to them in life. Focus on these themes and keep these in mind as you play:
1. Sometimes good or bad things happen outside of our control. Life could be unfair.
2. Process the feelings and celebrate the victories that were shared by each person.
3. Process the feelings and grieve the losses, failures, crisis, mistakes, etc that were shared by each person. Ask the person what was it that kept them going — “What strength did you lean on during that struggle?”
4. The point of playing “Chutes and Ladders” this way is to focus on building connection, trust, safety, and rapport. Listen, reflect, empathize, and also be willing to share. (Therapists, this is a good time to be Rogerian.) As I said before, if you’re a therapist, think of some things you’d be comfortable sharing that won’t disrupt your relationship with your client. However, if you’re a parent, I would challenge you to be a bit more vulnerable, authentic, and real, especially if you’re kids are older.
In the end, our journey in life is full of “chutes and ladders,” failures and successes, disappointment and fulfillment, and struggles and victories. We get stuck if we try to define ourselves by either one or the other.