How to use Jenga in therapy or to get to know your child better
I have this interactive Jenga game for work and the kids love it.  A previous supervisor had one in her office and I've built on the idea over the years with the help of clients and colleagues.

Interactive Jenga a great way to play Jenga with your kids while also building on social skills and improving your relationship. It teaches good sharing and listening skills. It allows them to talk about topics that they might not otherwise talk or think about. Kids love having adults listen to them enthusiastically and being able to explain their points of view, and they seen to enjoy hearing their parents answer as well.

Who Wins?

I don't talk about who "won" or "lost" when I play with kids, although some kids (and adults) are really concerned about it. Sometimes it takes a couple games with kids before they stop focusing on that part. To refocus from the "how do I win?" concerns, I talk to my clients about building the tower together- "Let's see how high we can make it!" Each person's addition to the tower can hurt or help the rest of the players. As we build the tower, we're also building our relationship... in therapy, we're building rapport with the client as we play and learning more about our client, but when families play together they're doing the same thing. This is great for a couple of reasons.

First, it allows the child to get to know you as a person, not just a disciplinarian or parent. And secondly, when you know about someone and more about why they think something, then we're more likely to respect them. We are also demonstrating respect by listening quietly to the other person's answer, not interrupting, not forcing our opinions on them, and not rushing to take our own turn. Respect is vital in parent-child relationships, and contrary to what a lot of people believe, respect is earned not by bringing a children into the world, but by what you do with them as a parent afterwards. So important. As a therapist and social worker, my goal isn't always to make everyone like me, but to have good rapport and have them respect me. It allows me to say, "Sally, your mom called me last night and told me you got into trouble at school. Tell me what happened" and then, later, "I'm really disappointed that you did that, but I'm glad you were able to talk to me about it. What can you do next time instead?" If you have a good rapport with your child (or client) and they respect you, then they will care that you're disappointed. That's a pretty good step towards being motivated to change their behavior.

You can compare this game to common relationship issues. For example, once trust has been broken it has to be rebuilt. Rebuilding trust takes time and energy, just like rebuilding the Jenga tower does. Each block takes effort because you have to think about the question and give a thoughtful answer.

This is not a game to be rushed... you want to take time with each block to discuss. If you go too fast and make it about speed, you'll knock down the tower accidentally. Similar to relationships, if you try to build relationships too fast and increase their intensity too quickly, you can cause the relationship to fall apart.

Boundaries

As with therapists, if you're a parent playing this game you should still maintain appropriate boundaries while playing. For example, "who have you lost that you are close to" is tough for you, either answer about a different loss or keep it vague. Appropriate answer: "I lost my grandmother a couple years ago and it was hard because she was important to me." Not appropriate: Breaking down crying for an hour and stopping the game. Adults take care of kids, not vice versa.

If you can't handle answering a question, then don't put it on the list. Don't put questions on the list just to fish for an answer that you're hoping they'll give you (ie. "have you ever used marijuana?" if you just found a pipe in your son's school bag). Just play. That sort of thing needs to be addressed elsewhere.

I give answers that my clients can understand... I do not say my favorite class "abnormal psychology," but "science." Favorite book? Harry Potter, not The Game of Thrones. Tailor it to your child's level.

How to Make Your Own!

All you need to do is purchase the old fashioned Jenga game from the store. I think they make giant Jenga towers too so if you wanted to get some physical activity in too, that would be fun! I volunteered for a therapeutic horseback riding program one summer and we often did activities where children with disabilities would have to stretch as part of their therapy on horseback. This could definitely work in that respect, if you used the big blocks.





Then you need to make up a list of 54 questions- one for each block. For my small version, I wrote a number on each block and then I print a list of numbered questions. But with the big blocks you could write the question on each block. The benefit to printing out the questions is that you could come up with a new list and change out the questions whenever you want. Make sure you tailor your questions to the age of the children playing the game. I mix mine up with some really personal questions and some really light hearted questions.

How to Play

You stack up all of the blocks as normal and then take turns pulling out a loose block. You look at the number on the block and answer the corresponding question. If you've already answered that question during this game, you can pick any other question instead. When you're done answering, you place the block on the top of the tower, trying not to knock it over. Now it's the next player's turn.

When it gets knocked down, I will say, "Ok let's rebuild it and play again!" or if we're running out of time then I'd have warned them that this was our last game. Then we can both work to clean up the pieces and put the game away at the end. The little kids really love to knock it down as a fun way to end the game too, once our session is done (if it hasn't been knocked over already). I'll say, "Let's build it really tall, then when we're finished I'll let you knock it down... but only once we're finished."

Possible Questions

Here are some questions you could use, or make up your own! Some of mine aren't appropriate if you're playing with family... like you probably know what pets they have. Some questions seem like they aren't great to ask each time you play, but sometimes it's interesting to see if the answer changes. Maybe they thought about it more and changed their mind, or added details. I also mix up the questions... I want some interesting questions (ie. superhero trait), some less intense questions (ie. favorite color), and some serious questions (ie. who have you lost?). That way the game is fun for everyone and "balanced." My kids don't always love answering the hard, serious questions, but they still love the game and will answer those questions because they know they'll eventually get other questions that they will like to answer.

Here are some questions that I've used...
  • What is your favorite color?
  • What is one quality that you look for in a friend?
  • Where were you born?
  • How many brothers and sisters do you have?
  • Describe yourself.
  • Who do you live with?
  • If you had one wish, what would you wish for?
  • What is your favorite food?
  • What is your favorite animal and why?
  • If you could hug one person right now, who would it be?
  • Where have you lived?
  • What does “therapy” mean to you?
  • How does your family celebrate the holidays?
  • What is one thing that you would like to change about yourself?
  • If you had a super power, what would you want it to be?
  • If you won a million dollars, what would you use it for?
  • Are you left or right handed?
  • What is your favorite movie?
  • What is one talent that you have?
  • What are you most scared of?
  • What is one quality that you look for in your dating partner (boyfriend/girlfriend)?
  • What do you want to be when you get older?
  • How many friends do you have?
  • Who do you see as your role model?
  • What is your favorite sport to watch? To play?
  • If you were on a space ship going to the moon, who would you take with you?
  • Envision a future for yourself that you would like to see. What is that future like (what are you doing, who are you with, how did you get there?)?
  • If you could be any animal, what would you be and why?
  • What does “love” mean to you?
  • What is your favorite television show?
  • Have you ever had a job? Where?
  • What are your bad habits?
  • What are your good habits?
  • Do you have a pet? What kind?
  • What is your birthday?
  • Who have you lost that you were close to?
  • If you could travel anywhere, where would you go?
  • What is your happiest memory?
  • What is one thing you’d like to do before you die?
  • Are you religious? What is your faith?
  • Who is your favorite musician/band?
  • Describe your mom.
  • Who are you closest to in your family?
  • Describe your dad.
  • What’s your favorite book?
  • What is your favorite class in school?
  • What is your saddest memory?
  • What is one thing that you love about yourself?
  • What type of music do you like?
  • What is one nice thing you have done for someone in the past month?
  • Tell me one thing that’s important to know about you.
  • Do you have a nickname? If so, what is it?
  • What is your favorite holiday? Why is it your favorite?
  • What is your favorite song? Why do you like it?
  • What is your favorite thing to do?
  • If you could take back one thing you said or did in your life, what would it be?
  • If you could go back in time, where would you go?
  • If you could have dinner with anyone famous (dead or alive), who would it be?
  • If you could change one thing that’s happened in your life, what would you change?
  • Do your parents get along?
  • What is your dream job?
  • What or who motivates you?
  • What is one thing that you believe strongly in?
  • Have you ever had something stolen from you? What was it like?
  • Talk about a time that a friend let you down.
  • What is the hardest thing about being a brother/sister?
  • What is the best thing about your family? What is the worst?
  • What is your favorite chore?
  • Do you receive an allowance? What do you have to do to get your allowance?
  • What is one thing that you think you could change to make yourself happier?
  • Are you good at keeping secrets?
  • How do you feel when you get your report card?
  • What is your favorite vacation that you have been on?
  • If you could go on vacation anywhere, where would it be? Who would you invite? What would you do when you were there?
  • What are some responsibilities that you have right now?
  • When you’re with your friends, how do you decide what to do together?
Other Options

Instead of using prepared questions, you could do topic blocks where each person can ask the other a question regarding the topic, such as "school" or "politics" etc. 

You could also just allow players to ask anyone in the game a question of their choice (or add one or two blocks that have that option). It's always interesting to see what they will ask. I like playing with the prepared questions a couple times, then playing this way. They'll sometimes follow up on questions or answers that they wanted to know more about. 

If you don't want to make this game or if you want something similar, there's a game called The Ungame that has lots of great questions. There are couples, Christian, kids, teen, and many other different versions to play.

What questions would you add to this list? 

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