Using Connect Four in Therapy

Some children do not enjoy playing board games. Connect Four is a familiar game and can be enjoyed by some of the children who don’t appreciate a board game.  A child’s approach to Connect Four can communicate a lot of information about the child. A child that confidently picks up Connect Four, and quickly sets it up may not only be demonstrating confidence, but an enjoyment of competition and cognitive challenges. On the other hand, this child may be demonstrating over-confidence and impulsively that repeatedly gets them in trouble.  As play proceeds these hypotheses can be examined by the clinician, and additional information gathered.

Prior to playing a game in therapy it is important engage the client in a discussion about how they would like game play to proceed.  Do they want to set it up? Learn the rules? Make up their own rules or modify the standard rules? If it’s a skill based game, such as Checkers or Connect Four, how do they want me to play? I may tell the child I’ve played Connect Four a lot, and usually win.  Do they want me to play my hardest? Some children at that point may give themselves an advantage, for example, dropping in two checkers for my one.

Dodge (2008) suggests client and therapist draw Emoticons on round stickers and attaching the Stickers to the checker pieces (alternatively, feeling words can be written on the stickers). Connect Four is won when one of the players achieves a row of four checkers. The winner is encouraged to create a story that includes the four emoticons on the winning checkers (see post on storytelling in child therapy). The game can be enhanced by creating a notebook with the child that includes a description of the emotions that go with the Emoticons and where the stories can be recorded.

Dodge, Cynthia (2008) “Connect 4 and Oh So Much More.” In Lowenstein, Liana (Ed), Assessment and Treatment Activities for Children, Adolescents, and Families: Practitioners Share Their Most Effective Techniques (available from childtherapytoys.com). Toronto, ON, Canada, Champion Press.

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